In this interview, sponsored by Yumpingo, you will see one of the greats of the US restaurant scene and founder of Union Square Hospitality Group, Danny Meyer, talking about the lessons learned from the lockdown in New York. He shares his perspective on the future of service and hospitality in conversation with both Peach 2020 chair Peter Martin and guest interviewer and co-founder of Hawksmoor, Will Beckett.
Is safety the new hospitality?
One of the main topics discussed was what guests are expecting in the current scenario. Customers have got used to a new world of plexiglass screens, hand sanitizer on tables and QR codes. According to Danny Meyer guests are willing to accept those changes and adjustments to continue eating out. He said:
“Safety is the new hospitality… it’s the new ambience in a restaurant (…) first we’re going to show we can take care of you… then we show you the hug.”
It’s a bold statement and was at odds with Hawksmoor’s founder Will Beckett who argued, at the same event, restaurants (and hospitality) have always been littered with risks, and the reason people choose it is because they trust operators implicitly and take their safety as a given. The reason they choose a venue is not because it is safe, but, instead, because it allows them a brief escape and transports them to a happier place, where they can enjoy the intangible thing that makes our industry so fantastic – great service.
This question raises an interesting point about operators’ approach during the covid-19 pandemic. One of the biggest challenges presented has been the way it has divided the way the nation behaves. Humans are traditionally creatures of habit and, by and large, brands can roughly anticipate how certain consumer groups are going to behave.
Covid-19 has ripped up the playbook.
Consumer sentiment and confidence varies greatly across all the traditional marketing groups. Mitigating personal factors, such as underlying health conditions, contact with elderly relatives, or previously having covid-19, all muddy the waters considerably and make it incredibly hard for operators to understand what the best course of action is to cater for their target consumer.
This isn’t altogether new. We’ve been talking about the increasingly fast changes to the wants and needs of guests for some years now. We’re an industry that has adapted swiftly to seismic shifts in consumer demands. Whether that’s an almost overnight need to remove all plastic straws from operations or the need to develop meaningful vegetarian and vegan offerings.
The industry has adapted gainfully but the pandemic has changed the game.
The speed and dynamism of evolving consumer sentiment is a daunting prospect. The release of new scientific data, the specific angle a news report takes or changes to the government guidelines can impact confidence in a matter of hours. In this climate, it’s more important than ever operators are doing all in their power to understand how their guests are feeling in real-time.
What to expect for December?
It’s true (but sad nevertheless) what Danny says – that some guests will gauge the quality of their eating and drinking experience out of home in December by how safe they feel. Front of house has always been a window to what is happening behind closed doors in the kitchen, so consumers will take comfort from seeing front-of-house team members wearing masks, giving guests space and diligently adhering to health and safety protocols and track and trace systems.
In the same venue, possibly sat on adjacent tables, will be customers who are much more relaxed when it comes to eating and drinking out of the home. They’ve bought finish-at-home restaurant boxes, tried to replicate their favourite cocktails in their kitchen, but found themselves pining to get out and enjoy being made to feel special.
Understanding the needs of both of these customers in real-time, ensuring that you’re not forfeiting everything that’s great about your guest experience for increased safety measures, is more important than ever.
How to act?
One of our partners, Jon Townsend, strategic planning manager at The New World Trading Company, also spoke at the Peach 2020 event. He highlighted how he is able to harness Yumpingo technology to get real-time feedback on dishes being served in-venue and actually head into the kitchen if a trend appears around a fall in the average score of a specific dish. When catering for a dynamic consumer, the ability to adapt and impact the experience at the moment is invaluable.
In a world of uncertainty, adopting this flexible, diligent and data-led approach, delivering operators certainty around their guests’ happiness, will be a crucial tool over the coming months. Equally important is remembering what makes our industry so great – hospitality and service. Customers should enjoy a feeling of escapism, complemented by safety and, achieving these two goals, against a tide of changing wants and needs, should not be seen as mutually exclusive.