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22 July, 2020

Letter to hospitality industry

By Frederick

Dear Hospitality,

I’m writing this letter in adoration, deep nostalgia but also with some reflection.

We all - operators, staff, suppliers, tech-partners and customers - owe you a “thank you”, a “I miss you” but above all a “I can do better and I have learnt my lesson”. We’d taken one another for granted in our everyday hustle and bustle. I guess sometimes we need to lose something to appreciate it even more and build a better future together.

How?


We customers - by showing more respect and loyalty to venues and members of staff who provide us with great food, drinks and service – no matter how tough the job gets.



We venue operators, staff and tech-partners - who had taken customers for granted, too, sometimes being too reluctant to improve when things seemed to go well – by appreciating and harvesting loyalty among our clientele, by putting even more effort into customer relationships than ever and by appreciating the beauty of our industry among all the challenges, often challenging work and tough moments.

Why?



Because the current lockdown must have given us enough time to realise how special you’re and how much we miss you.



It’s fascinating that on one hand, we’ve been totally fine without going to shopping malls anymore – we’ve been ordering all online and easily returning if it didn’t fit or work. We’ve realised that we don’t always have to go to the supermarket – we can get the same products in a far more convenient way by ordering online. We’ve realised that working in the office Monday to Friday isn’t a necessity either, that we can live without cinemas and watching a movie at home isn’t that bad.

BUT! Although we can still buy pretty much any ingredients we want, access a gazillion of recipes, cook 3 times a day, make cocktails at home, buy top notch wine, order our favourite beer online, we would still love to go to a restaurant for a dinner or brunch with our friends and family, have a pint or G&T at our after-work pub and pay that £3.5 for our beloved oat flat white in the morning. What’s even more interesting, we can still order a lot of these things via Deliveroo, JustEat and UberEats and many other platforms – yet the orders across the entire UK has apparently not significantly increased during the lockdown. Doesn’t make sense…. Or does it?

To me personally, this shows exactly how precious and one of a kind, you are, my Dear Hospitality. We miss you because you’re not just the ingredient, you’re not just the final dish or drink either – you’re the ambience, you’re the people that greet us when entering the venue, that prepare our order and serve it to us. You’re the unforgettable moments shared with friends, lovers, co-workers or just on our own in our daily routines. You’re the special treatment we receive from staff and venues as businesses. You’re an EXPERIENCE, an ART, part of our everyday routines. The food and drinks are crucial elements of it yet not the main reasons we miss it so much. This is why you’re irreplaceable.

BUT! Hospitality can only exist and thrive with fully operating venues who get the support they need whilst they are closed, pay ‘healthier’ rents once they reopen to run sustainable businesses and employ staff for a good pay. Remember how hard they need to work day in, day out to provide the experience we all miss? Without happy, rewarded staff, Hospitality cannot thrive.


So CUSTOMERS! Once we are back to our favourite restaurant, pub or coffee shop – take a moment and appreciate the food, drinks and the people who make it happen. Leave a tip every now and then but above all, always leave your kindness. As an ex-venue manager, I can ensure you that a customer’s smile, loyalty and a simple thank you is what gives us the energy to be on top of our game throughout the entire shift. Stay kind and stay loyal – it means the world to us.

ut VENUE OPERATORS AND MANAGERS! May the current crisis be a lesson that we can’t take a busy venue for granted. No matter how ‘fully booked’ we are, no matter how long we have been running the business just fine – this virus has made everyone stop and face a tremendous challenge. But it has also given us enough time to think it through and realise how much room for improvement there still is and being savvy for change is the only way forward. Ignoring the fact that the world moves on, developing fast is the easiest way to lose grip. You are making the industry so special, so exciting and remarkable – CUSTOMERS count on you – it is a huge responsibility. Let’s change our mind-set and use this moment to the fullest.

Thank god the hospitality industry cannot become the ‘Nokia’ of the 2020’s.

Why Nokia? Because it was November 2007 when Nokia was on the cover of Forbes magazine with the great title ‘1 billion customers. Can anyone catch the cell phone king?’ Guess what, 6 months later the first iPhone came out and the rest is history. We are lucky, as the current pandemic has shown that our Dear Hospitality cannot be replaced, oppose to Nokia cell phones, with something new. However, now, more than ever, looking after our guests and making extra effort to keep them happy, safe and rewarded will be crucial to survive and thrive despite Covid19.


BUT! Harvesting loyalty and customer relationships won’t be or mean the same as they used to. We’ll need to take some serious actions.

What?

What we will have to do, first and foremost, is to keep our customers safe and provide them with an experience, environment and service that has guests’ and the staff’s health in mind. Obviously, there are the big changes that might be inevitable– like layout adjustments to allow more space between people and tables, rebuilding the bars and counters depending on what restrictions the government will enforce. However, there are some, less invasive and much more beneficial changes that every venue can or should make regardless to the virus. And all of them involve technology! Now, more than ever, venue operators and staff will have to become tech savvy and realise that tech can actually deliver significant value:

a) Avoiding or banning cash payments to limit touching and exchanging objects and making contactless payments (with all card providers) and ApplePay/GooglePay the main payment option. Many venues already implemented that a long time ago. But those that still haven’t, this the time! It does not only limit the risk of spreading any viruses but also means no cashing up at the end of the night, no cash left on the premises (lower costs and lower risk of a break-ins), no money missing/lost at the end of the shift. It’s now when even the most cash-loving customers will understand that change and appreciate it.

b) Introduction of digital menus that guests can easily access on their smartphone, which again limits touching and exchanging objects between hundreds of customers and staff plus saves a significant number of trees every year.

c) Getting rid of paper stamp cards which are passed back and forth by customers and staff. This once again, not only keeps everyone safe but gives significant value to the venues. Introducing digital loyalty solutions ensures the guests never lose their loyalty card again, gives the venues access to crucial analytics and communication tools at the back of it. Let’s face it – giving a stamp card to a customer is like giving away flyers on the street – they might come back or might not – the venue has no idea and no way to stay in touch. Now is the perfect time to change that because even the most old-school customers will appreciate such upgrade as it shows you care.

This leads us to the next key action that has to be taken by our industry. Namely differentiating rewarding loyal customers from giving away offers for random people. Offers drive short term, unsustainable traction – loyalty makes businesses thrive for years. The recent study shows that 60% of London venues shut down within 1-3 years from opening but 90% of those who stay open for 5 years also stay open for 10 years and longer. And as much as customers stay primarily loyal for the amazing food, drinks and the personal touch and service, we all, human beings, love to be rewarded as a sign of recognition. We all have our favourite places we go to and feel like home. But how many times have we been in a situation, where just because the venue was busy or our beloved barista, waiter or manager had left, we ended up having all our loyalty and recognition instantly erased? It’s a major disappointment for the guest and significant loss for the venue, which usually has no clue that such regular customer is about to leave. What if we could make sure that our crucial guests can always feel comfortable and rewarded regardless to staff changes, busy service or the fact that they forgot their stamp card? What if we could actually find out how many regulars we rely on and never lose them again? Of course, a customer will not return to a venue simply because of a loyalty scheme and recognition - the food, drinks, service and ambience are the key factor – but with so much choice and constant staff changes – that extra treatment, no matter when the customer visits, makes a huge difference. And we don’t need to look far for inspiration and proof – let’s look at leading airlines and hotels who despite being huge corporations make sure each customer stays loyal to them and feels rewarded adequately. For instance, when you fly with BA you know that your loyalty is always counted. It makes it almost pointless for a customer to jump from one airline to another even when there are some price differences. When you’re flying with BA and you reach enough miles – you don’t have to worry whether the steward/ess recognizes you or whether the flight is busy with many passengers or not. You’ll be able to get an upgrade, special treatment onboard or even a free flight! I strongly believe that we can achieve something very close in hospitality.

Obviously, the personal touch when a loyal customer returns will always come from the member of staff regardless of any technology. A busy bar or coffee shop is a different environment than a hotel or plane. But there are systems every venue can implement with no operational hassle, that ensure customers’ loyalty gets always counted, even when the venue is packed or you’ve just changed half of your staff. Those systems will also allow you to adjust the rewards based on how loyal such customers are, how you, the operator, would like to treat them with or what you’d like to upsell at the given time. Furthermore, such systems give you a whole lot of analytics that are absolutely crucial for your business, e.g. how many regulars you have, how many customers might be driving 80%-90% of your business and what’s most important – an easy to use channel to stay in touch with them. With that being said – Dear Operators, Marketing Execs, Customer Relationship Managers – please raise your hands if you usually end up mainly talking to your clients when they’re in the venue and limit your digital communication to a monthly newsletter, social media posts and paid campaigns? We’ve all been there and for a long time this seemed to be enough. But haven’t these unprecedented times shown us that it might not be enough? E-mailing lists end up in spam, social media has become way too crowded and all of these channels don’t really focus on the small group of customers that actually drive most of our business?

The reality post-lockdown might on one hand look scary but on the other hand, it will bring hospitality to its core and drive significant innovation. And even those less tech savvy guests will understand it. It won’t be about chasing new customers but about looking after our local, regular customers and increasing their number of visits throughout the year. It will be about striving every day to turn each customer into a loyal brand ambassador who feels rewarded, looked after and gets relevant and genuine communication from you. No more one-size-fits all marketing, no more chasing voucher seekers and overpaying for random footfall. Throw away offers and invest in rewards. Increase your time and efforts put into staying in touch with your core clientele – not only when they’re in your venue but proactively when they’re not. Implement systems that ensure each customer gets their loyalty counted and fairly rewarded. Look at data and use it to improve. And allow technology to support you on this.

There won’t be a better time to take a leap of faith and change - even if you had never been tech savvy or had bad experience with technology before. Change and innovate. Try things out. There are start-ups that will fight the battle hand-in-hand with you. Who understand your business and industry. Find such partners and weather this storm together. Do it for your customers, do it for your businesses and also for your staff who will appreciate solutions that make their life easier and work environment safer.

Dear Hospitality, we’ve taken some time to reflect and I know we will all come out stronger, wiser, better prepared than ever. Dear Hospitality, I know you’ll always be there because we, operators, managers, staff, tech-partners and customers ARE Hospitality – and we are not going anywhere.

Yours faithfully

Frederick