Let’s meet the restrictions head-on, says WAA Chosen

Matt Guest, director of on-trade at WAA Chosen and Diageo Bar Academy European head trainer, provides insight and advice to operators, following the latest government regulations.

The new restrictions imposing early closing and mandatory table service are the latest blows to an already hard-hit hospitality sector. The 10pm closure could mean the loss of up to 50% of the evening business, as 8pm is set to now become the final restaurant sitting. Without the appropriate response, this significant interruption to the peak trading time, coupled with the increased labour costs of table service, could be the final straw for many outlets across the country.

However, based on our team’s experience training thousands of outlets every year through schemes like the Diageo Bar Academy, I would argue that the on-trade is full of agile and innovative operators. I therefore expect to see the industry roll with the latest punches and still come out fighting.

From our conversations with stakeholders right across the industry, there is no question that our sector is being tested like never before, but with a number of proactive changes and a clear service strategy, I truly believe that many of the potentially negative implications of the restrictions can be mitigated.

Safety is clearly paramount, so the first priority is to meet all the new legal requirements, not least operating an effective and secure track and trace procedure.

Aside from the added PPE, the next area you as an outlet need to focus on is to maximise the value extracted from each guest. As on-trade specialists, we often instigate partnerships that can help deliver incremental value for all parties while also delivering the most engaging guest experiences. In my experience, a huge amount of value is currently still ‘left on the table’ and in these circumstances it’s vitally important that you maximise every opportunity with every patron – all in a shorter period of time.

This means training staff to deliver a new service strategy while giving your customers an enjoyable hospitality experience. During my career training thousands of on-trade staff, I know first-hand the huge impact well-trained staff can have on sales. I’m convinced that a few relatively modest operational adjustments can help limit the negative impact on your business:

Make the most of every moment

Instead of seating guests and leaving them to browse menus for 10 minutes, get the host in the habit of taking a drinks order as soon as the guest is seated. Reducing the initial order waiting time has the potential to add an additional drink sold per guest and visit. You don’t have to be a mathematician to realise that this can soon add up to a significant amount of money over the course of the coming weeks and months. This gesture also makes it easier for guests to start enjoying the hospitality experience straight away.

Get guests on side

In light of the reduced opening time, turning tables will be more important than ever – not just for the outlet, but to enable as many people as possible to still enjoy a night out. A well-trained host can build on the country’s newly reawakened community spirit and explain that this means a slightly tighter limit on the time guests can have at the table. Securing the buy-in of your table at the beginning of the experience helps align guest expectation and get them on side. This happened to me recently and I thought it was brilliantly done.

Teach your team to recommend

We often talk about up-selling in the on-trade. This is nothing new, but there is an opportunity for staff to make well-placed recommendations to help the guests make good choices. It also allows you to encourage preferred menu selections. Simple things like letting the guest know which are the best-sellers or which are the server’s personal favourites not only helps the guest choose more easily, but also has the effect of making the guest feel like the service experience is better.

Embrace the benefits of table service

There is no doubt that the mandatory table service will bring the need for more staff at a time when profits are down. However, with some basic training waiting staff can not only deliver drinks efficiently and safely to seated guests, but can also influence orders of additional rounds. Instead of waiting for guests to make their way back to the bar, a passing attentive server can take the next order in a more timely way.

Implement a reduced menu engineered for profitability

Talking of good will, I would also take the opportunity to reduce the complexity of the menus on offer. This should be done to increase speed and profitability, helping to turn tables and putting your most profitable dishes front and centre. You can see this as a mission to drive marginal gains but when added together they become significant. Look at how Starbucks promote coffee – sure you can get a cappuccino if you ask for it, but all the messaging in outlet is driving you towards one of their specialty drinks utilising flavoured syrups and attractive presentation to drive incremental sales.

A previous proprietor myself, I fully understand the very difficult challenges the hospitality industry is facing. While many aspects are outside our control, our specialist food and drink team are working flat out to provide support, and we have seen countless examples of strong resilience and proactive entrepreneurial spirit since the Coronavirus outbreak.

As a long-standing industry educator, my aim is to drive behavioural change that can deliver tangible returns. By implementing some relatively simple additional measures I believe we can help keep our hospitality sector safe and open for business during the months ahead.

WAA Chosen is an independent, full-service marketing agency that services the hospitality industry through the specialist food and drinks hub Stir.

The agency has been managing the Diageo Bar Academy in GB since its inception and also services a broad range of clients from across the sector, including Britvic, Lamb Weston, Delaware North and Pringles.

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