Turning Christmas Fear into Christmas cheer!
I hear you! At the moment it’s looking very uncertain for festivities, isn’t it. And why is that?
Is this just consumer confidence, or because hospitality was understandably late in launching Christmas this year? Or perhaps both?
To answer that question let’s turn to the facts. Data from Bums on seats provides a unique insight across a large portfolio of Clients and many different sites and brands. This tells me a great deal about consumer behaviors and industry performance. This data can be compared with activities leading up to Christmas pre Covid (remember that?) telling us that the hospitality sector could rely on at least 85% of all Christmas bookings taking place before the end of October. Good times!
This year I would estimate much closer to 35% than 85%. That’s incredibly unnerving – Christmas yet again was meant to bring merriment and rejoicing and, as I always like to pun, the tills ringing out this Christmas time. So what’s going on and what can we do about it?
Let’s start with the customer (an absolute must) and then reflect on the fact that you are also a customer. So how are you feeling? Well I for one haven’t started thinking seriously about Christmas preparations, or the Bums Christmas party, other than, ‘it will happen in January’. Admittedly I have booked for the Bums ‘family’ (as we like to call ourselves) to attend the UKH annual Christmas lunch (you see where my priorities lie) and arranged Christmas cards for our clients as well as a little Bums staff secret Santa (thought about not started). I have not thought (or started) on anything else beyond these. And you’ll notice it’s all mainly just thought!
What am I waiting for? What are we all just waiting for?
Further personal insight: I am considering an office move to a prestigious site but deeply concerned about committing to the deposit and rental terms in case we go to this mystical ‘Plan B’ – which is not so mystical and threatens renewed social distancing and lockdowns. Are we to expect this threat every winter now? It seems utterly ridiculous to me but then, so did all of 2020! You may say ‘but putting down £5pp isn’t the same as spending 15k’, but that’s where the facts suggest you would be wrong as the thinking behind a reservation in a restaurant, bar or hotel is exactly the same……hesitancy and fear about the future!
If you want to understand your customer then you need do no more than consider how you are feeling personally right now. Relate your own fears (fear being our most powerful emotion by the way) to that of a Christmas party booker, who has the following major concerns:
- Losing company money
- Catching Covid-19 individually or collectively
- CSR (bigger than ever)
- Budget and expense
- Going home for Christmas as I missed out last year
And that’s just the top 6!
So it’s no surprise really that Christmas is not – thus far – delivering to expectations, although I’m sure the wise amongst you may have suspected this from the start, and that’s why my eternally positive outlook can ‘bite me’ in the baubles occasionally!
Let’s look now at our sector’s planning for Christmas. We were so so late! Very late! And we know the reasons why, but boy I am convinced that had a major knock-on effect. The sooner we market Christmas the sooner our customer will think about it – sound and proven advertising principles. Communicate your message early, clearly, and to the targeted demographic, and watch the crowds come flooding in to your venue!
We clearly missed around 3 months of sales (that’s me being generous), for many of us a lot more if you have private event space, and for some of you almost nothing at all because planning for Christmas had taken back stage. We know that if you launch it late you will lose out to competition, even more so at a difficult time like this.
My point is: the longer it takes us to launch that delicious Christmas menu and price point, the slower the sales and the shorter our window for year on year growth. Fact!
Look I don’t mean to be doom and gloom however we must all learn from our customer’s fears so that we can eliminate or reduce them substantially to secure your much needed bums on seats. It’s imperative (and obvious) that you must understand and empathise with your potential customer in order to build trust and maintain the long term relationship crucial to building loyalty and your underlying profitability derived from sales (that was a long winded explanation but entirely necessary).
Learning from experience is one of the joys in life as far as I’m concerned, and applying the lessons from this year’s generally slower preparations for Christmas within hospitality is a MUST for next year. Christmas – with the right planning and (crucially) timing – should be the most profitable trading period which impacts on revenue in subsequent periods as well as the rest of the following year, and beyond! It baffles me why, for too many venues, planning for Christmas becomes almost an after thought. It should be a yearly business focus, prioritised for planning alongside other forthcoming events (including Valentine’s Day), and worked on in Q1, launched at the start of Q2 so that you are driving sales three months of the year, hitting your bottom line in Q4. Done!
Now that we are almost into November what we really need to discuss is what can we do to drive Christmas sales this Year?
The answer is much simpler than you might expect – understand and eliminate your customer’s fears to bring them into your venue, and make everyone happy with Christmas cheer!
By Amber Staynings
Amber is the CEO & Founder of Bums on Seats. Having worked in the hospitality industry for over 20 years and her influence is felt across the sector.