Why I, might come dine with you?

I don’t cook. Not much anyway. Why would I?

Just before lockdown, the UK was at its height of offering its widest selection of dining experiences; whether you wanted something novel and entertaining; something on trend and boujie or whether you just wanted to take a bite of something scrumptious with a delicious cocktail to follow. The UK’s restaurant sector was ticking all the boxes and I made sure I got involved.

So, you can imagine my dismay when we were locked in with only one essential supermarket trip allowed, very little culinary skill in my toolkit and to make things worse, I was pregnant and so very ready to indulge in all those fabulous food feasts without any thought for my waistline. But if I believed I had it bad, my sympathy was tenfold for all those in the restaurant sector who were left to close their doors, empty their fridges, make staff redundant and feel the full effects of their customers’ absence.

Thank goodness for the Eat Out to Help Out campaign!

Finally, we were allowed out again. I could escape the constant opening of my kitchen cupboards with a complete lack of desire to whip up something creative or better yet, join the nation on their banana bread obsession. Not me, not I.

Eat Out to Help Out was a HUGE success last year.

The moment restaurants opened their doors, I was in. But what surprised me was the repetitiveness of my trips out. Normally, I am the a-typical example of a millennial diner; I enjoy variety and decide spontaneously where to eat out. This had changed; not only did the privilege of rocking up at any restaurant dissipate but, the huge surge of custom that launched themselves at the restaurant sector to indulge in this fabulous EOTHO offer, created a demand that asserted a compulsory notion of planning ahead.

What on earth…? As a nation, we had all FINALLY got on board (well, maybe forced to succumb) to pre-booking our dining experiences.

As a professional, the pre-booking function of a business was of course paramount and top of my agenda; but as a consumer, I rarely gave it much thought. Yet, here we are, in the middle of a pandemic and the eureka moment for pre-booked business in the restaurant sector was about to fly. What a shame that the sky couldn’t be the limit due to the unfortunate capacity restrictions!

Not one to dwell on the negatives, pre-booking my copious visits to a small selection of local favourites, supported the statistic that 70% of a customer’s decision to book is based on relationship built.

My priorities had changed, I wanted to leave the confinement of my house and be welcomed by familiar faces, who knew that my heavily pregnant body needed that super comfy seating area and didn’t judge me when I asked for a glass of crushed iced to compliment my superfood salad…with a side of fries and extra cheese on top. I wanted to feel at home, away from home. My dining experience, in a clean and warm venue with a host that knew my name and preferences was far more superior to taking a risk and trying something new; dining out became emotive and as a by-product, I became more loyal to that venue… and the resurrection of their quiz night.

Some may say that whilst I may be considered a millennial, perhaps this pandemic has made me old. The cheek…!

Many years of static behaviour can change in just 6 months and here we are coming out of something completely unprecedented (yes, I said it) and devastatingly overwhelming that perhaps the consumer generations we had once divided, now show cross-generational habits. I, for example, apparently display baby boomer traits of becoming a ‘regular’ at a venue but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t still enjoy a new restaurant experience.

Enjoying a mocktail in one of my regular spots.

I’d say, that more than ever, rapport between a business and its customers is fundamental to driving a superior revenue stream to that of a competitor.

Just because a venue is closed or running on reduced capacity does not exclude them from building their pre-booked business. This is not the time to ignore that little black book of large corporate contacts who may seem like a lifetime away from booking. Stay in touch. Be the business that has maintained contact and kept them in mind. So, when that glorious day of absolutely zero restrictions comes along, and they want to make that super-duper booking, YOU will be the venue THEY keep in mind.

COVID has impacted consumer behaviour. FULL STOP!

The restaurant trade must remain agile and maximise on every bookable prospect, whether that means providing a delivery service or DIY home-kits or even, just maintaining engagement across social media… which still remains my out-and-out go-to for restaurant inspo.

Opportunity will now present itself differently and doors that were once seemingly closed have reopened. Families will value getting together, milestone birthdays have been missed and people will want to make more of celebrations. Just take weddings as a prime example (and a cheeky hint to my other half). A huge event with an average guest list of 150+ reduced to just 30. All of a sudden that beautiful manor house turns into an unnecessary cost to seat such a small group for dinner. KERCHING!!! There’s your opening for new business.

As we come out of the third and, let’s hope, final lock down, the pre-booked function of a restaurant should continue to receive the recognition it rightfully deserves as incremental to business success. Smart restaurants stop relying on generous footfall and start demanding less cancellations, more confirmations and increased customer loyalty through fruitful rapport building.

Better yet, let’s keep everything crossed that restrictions cease entirely so we won’t have to wait 2 weeks in advance to sit outside to enjoy a bit of pub grub.

By Chloe Dodd

Chloe is an expert in the late-night entertainment and bars sector. Her work includes operations for multiple Revolution Bars venues and the prestigious Electric Ballroom in Camden and more recently as Head of Sales for Deltic Group/ Rekom UK.

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