As the COVID-19 crisis deepened throughout the UK, millions of hospitality businesses and the people which work for them were plunged into uncertainty. One of the best tools hospitality businesses have to make the best decisions right now is data: what are the industry trends and what can the systems you already use tell you about what to do next? We teamed up with experts from across the hospitality industry to go beyond the initial shocks and hear from businesses first-hand about what’s going on and what you should do next.

“When you’re hurting, the fact is we’re all hurting.” 

That was the message from Planday’s CEO Christian Brøndum as hundreds of businesses joined our webinar on 14 April, just a few weeks into the lockdown when businesses like yours were really starting to feel the pinch. 

“Together, we are facing three unknowns: the depth of disruption, the length of the disruption and the shape of recovery.”

In order to get a better look at what these three unknowns might look like — and help hospitality businesses make smart investments to weather the crisis — we brought a leading restaurant data and analytics expert, the UK’s premier hospitality industry body, a successful staff training organisation, a social media marketing platform and a powerful payroll partner together in a free webinar.

What restaurants are telling us firsthand

Peter Ducker — Chief Executive at the Institute of Hospitality — explained that while the industry had faced and bounced back from crises like the GFC a decade ago, COVID-19 is different and moving at a faster pace.

“Restaurants are losing about £1 billion a week,” he said. “The difference between this and other crises is that it’s come without warning — and it’s unlike any recession we’ve seen before.”

He said that a concern for Institute members is that, while furlough rules are a great lifeline for many businesses, pausing the use of some staff from your business could mean they are lost from the hospitality industry industry when things start to re-open.

But one of the best investments hospitality businesses can make right now is doing what they’ve always done — treat your people and your customers like a family. Keep in touch with your team and let them know what your business’ plans are, even if they are likely to change as restrictions and advice changes. 

“So many businesses do feel their staff and their clients are part of the family, and this is an important time to stay in touch and keep them up to date with what’s going on,” Peter says.

Want to know more about what hospitality businesses should do right now? Download your hospitality business guide to surviving COVID-19 from our expert Kerry Hollis.

What the data tells us about the trend

Beyond the feedback of Institute of Hospitality members, we know many businesses want to hear what the rest of the industry is facing and how you compare with the trend. Tenzo — a powerful restaurant analytics platform — specialises in understanding what the data means for businesses like yours. Its Co-Founder, Christian Mouysset — a computer scientist who worked in a restaurant — summed it up with one important reminder.

“You’re not alone in this,” he says.

As for what the data tells us:

  • November and December were growing at about +6 and +6.4%, then within a week between March 2 and March 9, that fell from a drop of -6.7% to -22% growth year on year
  • Prior to the lockdown, 30% of restaurants had closed and after it that number was around 80%
  • But — of those that remain open — some parts of the industry are performing well
  • For instance, supermarkets — which normally provide ingredients for 50 to 60% of all meals jumped up to more than 95% of all meals, which saw trade that’s bigger than Christmas
  • As part of that growth, delivery services have also risen significantly

Christian says there are three things businesses like yours can do during the crisis:

Using Tenzo’s data from around the world, Christian dived into the numbers from other markets which were hit by COVID-19 before the UK and Europe and have started gradually reopening parts of the economy, such as China.

  • 9 weeks on, 35% of stores remain closed in China
  • Although the lockdown has eased in parts of China, people are reluctant to go out to eat and the bump in demand for deliveries continues
  • This is where strong brands should leverage their client and employee base to keep in touch and share the latest information and advice
  • The recovery will take some time — and is unlikely to be a ‘V’ shape

Finally, as restaurants and hospitality businesses look to reopen, it’s likely that there will be new regulations and a greater emphasis on space and safety than ever before. 

For instance, New Zealand hospitality operators are asked to follow the ‘three S rule’ — seated people in the restaurant, cafe or bar at all times, space between tables and every table must have a server to prevent queuing at the bar. 

Guidelines like this are things that will change depending on the market, but it’s likely businesses will need to adapt their operations to preserve things like social distancing, staff wearing masks, perhaps even outdoor seating only, once the hospitality sector starts to reopen. In some places, people’s details are collected so contact can be made if there’s a later outbreak.

Smart businesses should consider how their best-performing locations, potential disruptions to supply chains and changes to the menu might look as things start to reopen.

Like the sound of Tenzo’s analytics? To see how the powerful Planday and Tenzo partnership can work for your business, read our brand new blog here.

What are good business leaders doing right now?

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, businesses big and small have been reminded of the importance of your greatest asset — your people. Jill Whittaker, Managing Director at HIT Training, said “… it’s when times are tough you realise what kind of organisation you work for.”

Using her many years of managing people and helping people realise and achieve their potential through training, Jill shared her golden rules for making sure you look after your people now, when they need it most.

  • Know your numbers

“As a leader, you’ve got to start by knowing your numbers all the time — it’s not the accountant’s job to understand them. You need to count your beans, because you need to have solid facts on which to base your decision making.If you don’t have that, everything else can fall apart,” Jill says.

  • Be honest

“It seems simple — but tell the truth. Don’t embellish it. Don’t try to make it sound better than it is. You’re not doing anyone any favours if you’re doing that,” she says.

  • Trust

“When you hire your staff, if you’re a good leader, you surround yourself with people you consider to be great. You hire them for their aptitude, their attitude and their ability to grow along with you. Even though you won’t see them everyday, now is the time you have to put your faith and trust in them. Because they are really putting their faith and trust in you,” she says.

“I have 550 staff and we’ve all had that urge, we’ve seen something come up in the paper and thought we should do that. That’s not your job. You have fantastic people to do it and you should trust they can do it.”

  • Do the right thing

Working with 10,000 web-based learners every year, Jill’s company sees that the challenges of the pandemic will mean people’s apprenticeships don’t get completed or the other circumstances of live — like maternity leave, for instance — will mean people’s plans are interrupted and this can have a knock-on effect for their career.

That’s why it’s important to remember that training is not only an investment for the company that has an apprentice, it’s an investment in that person’s career. And although it’s always important to play by the rules, in order to retain talented people and help them achieve their best, it’s also important to do what’s right.

  • Be ‘can do’

“This is the time to focus on what you can do, no what you can’t do,” Jill says.

“Frankly if — as a leader in a business — your head is so tied up in what you can’t do, not in what you can do, that you can’t think about what’s possible, then I guess you’re in the wrong job, would be my advice to you.”

  • Care

“You have to care. Make a call. Send a card out to people. Tweet that you’re proud of them. Technology is fantastic at the moment — it’s a great enabler to keep people in touch and you should use it in your business and keep in touch with your people and your clients,” Jill says.

  • Do as you would be done by

“If ever you’re in doubt about what you should do, think about the person you’re dealing with and how you would like to be treated in their situation. It’s an old idea but it’s a very good one,” Jill says.

  • Engage 

“This is a lot more than today’s buzzword — it’s keeping everybody up to date, keeping everybody current and making sure that everyone knows what’s going on. This is about making sure you engage with people in a really practical way.”

  • Humility

“This is a really important one — don’t pretend you’ve got all the answers. As leaders, if we pretend we have all the answers, we are going to fail. Being honest and practising humility can actually take you a really long way as a leader.”

As Planday’s CEO Christian Brøndum says, the question we will all have to answer as leaders after this crisis is this: what did we do when it mattered? 

Want to know what your hospitality workers want when your business starts to re-open? Download your exclusive survey results from thousands of UK hospitality workers to find out.

How can technology help?

Before getting into the tech scene across Europe, the Middle East and Asia to help hospitality businesses and leaders work smarter, Adrian Valeriano from Lightspeed worked in New York’s vibrant restaurant and bar scene. 

“We want to use data to give our team the tools they need to support our customers,” Adrian says. 

With a suite of offerings for hospitality businesses big and small — from POS and payroll data to inventory management, eCommerce and analytics — Adrian reckons the key to weathering the storm is using the data your restaurant already has to make smarter decisions.

“Take a step back, find ways you can adapt and find ways you can plan — and then test it. Technology platforms are a great way to do that,” Adrian says.

“Hospitality businesses are local businesses and it’s great to see communities coming together around local restaurants, cafes and bars — so people and local communities are investing in local businesses.”

Like Tenzo, Adrian says the initial weeks of the COVID-19 shutdown saw Lightspeed customers engage more with eCommerce and delivery services.

Adrian says businesses which have engaged with the local community and used services, like delivery, to continue operating and serving the local area will have strengthened their connection with their customers when lockdowns start to ease.

“Whether the come-back of people dining out is gradual or quick, the reality is people are going to remember the local businesses that were there for them during the shutdown,” Adrian says. 

“So I think it’s all our jobs now — when we’re working with local businesses — to help them focus on that and not get caught up in the negativity of the moment, but realise the potential and the long-term picture.

“It’s about caring for local businesses, testing what it might look like and helping people adapt for the future.”

Are you tracking the same KPIs as the most successful hospitality businesses? Get your Restaurant KPI checklist and see how you stack up

What should marketing and social media look like for hospitality businesses right now?

As hospitality businesses around the world changed the way they work as part of the shutdown, so too did the way clever businesses communicate with their customers. To find out what best-practise social media for restaurants looks like today, we invited Dino Kukovic from social media marketing platform Falcon.io to share his top tips.

“Right now, it is so important to think humanity-first,” Dino says. 

“Even if your company is suffering from financial loss at the moment, it’s clear the community wants to know what you are doing in response to COVID-19 and how you are helping. The best way to do that is using social media.

“We need to remember that at its heart, a crisis means two things: danger and opportunity.”

“Some consumer behaviour might permanently change. If you think about safety, quality assurance and the need for transparency, consumers may be less price sensitive — and that will work to all of your advantage,” Dino says.

Dino says for hospitality businesses, there should be three key focuses from your social media right now.

Get back to basics

“People may not be searching for you in the same way they were — opening up an app to find the nearest Italian restaurant, for example, but they will. When these restrictions have been lifted and everyone starts looking for places to dine, where will you actually be in those search results?”

So here are the basics Dino says you should look at today:

  • Optimise your online presence so everything looks on brand on your social media
  • Fill out profiles so people can find you 
    • Can your menu be easily viewed on desktop and mobile versions? 
    • Are your images up-to-date? 
    • Do you have an online reservation system? 
    • Can you capture people’s emails to build a mailing list?
    • What are you doing during COVID and how are you supporting your staff?
  • Set yourself up as a Google Business
  • Improve your search engine optimisation and the ease-of-use of your website/app


Provide an alternative customer experience

“Consumers may do more pick up or home delivery than usual but what you need to do is optimise and re-prioritise your content and channel mix for the changing way people are taking in media at the moment,” Dino says.

“Be aware of where people are today, read up on some of these consumer behavioural studies from the platforms you use because they will give you some clues.”

What should businesses like yours think about?

  • Optimise your content and channel mix
  • Go behind-the-scenes so your customers can see more
  • Share what your business is doing about COVID-19 and how some of your practices have changed
  • Use live content via your channels to share things like recipes and tutorials or showcase menu items available for delivery
  • Invest in your social media to find new audiences and reach out to them to share your message
  • Find new partnerships
  • Offer discounts or deals
  • Market some gift cards now that your customers can use when you do re-open
  • Use video campaigns 


Use ads to sustain your short-term sales

Investing in your social media channels can be a great way to engage with your audience, share your message and grow your potential customer base right now. Here are Dino’s top tips to think about.

  • Use poll ads — what are the things your customer base wants to see from you right now?
  • Spend smarter — target the people you need in your local area with the content they want to scale up your deliveries and engage with the local community
  • Consideration campaign — let people know who you are and what you do
  • Conversion campaign — bring new customers in through targeted campaigns aimed at the right people
  • Retarget guests — use the audience you already have on your social media channels and website to encourage people who’ve dined with you before to do so again now
Want to make your social media work for you? Download your step-by-step guide on how to turn your Facebook page into a successful part of your social media marketing strategy here.

What are the key takeaways from this webinar of experts?

With an abundance of information out there on COVID-19 and your business, it can be tough to know exactly what this all means for you. Our hospitality business guide to surviving COVID-19 has practical tips and solutions you can use right now. But what are the key takeaways from this webinar from some of the industry’s best?

  • Use your data

So much of how you’re tracking and where you can go is tied up in the data you already have. Optimise it and understand it better to make smarter decisions and set yourself up to come back strong and safe from COVID-19.

  • Look after your people

Your people are the best asset your business has. When restrictions start to ease, discerning consumers will be looking for the best possible service and experiences for their money. Look after your greatest asset with proper communication, support from the Government if it works for your business and by understanding what your staff want to see from you.

  • Look after your customers

Local communities are really important right now. Consumers want to support local businesses and those businesses will then be rewarded with loyal customers and a following on the other side. Use your social media channels to change the way you communicate, reach out to your audience and grow your potential for a strong and safe comeback.

covid-19 hospitality webinar

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