It goes without saying, the hospitality industry has been devastated by the impact of COVID19. This includes not only stand-alone cafés, restaurants, and bars but also those operating in galleries and museums. In this context, they have the dual role of enhancing the visitor experience, through the visitor cafés, and of valuable income generation for the institution through corporate hire & catered events.
Many of those museums and galleries that cautiously opened from July onwards have not opened their cafés at all or in much reduced forms, a coffee cart in place of a grand café. Whilst the cafés are important in the service they provide the visitor, it is the corporate hire and events business that delivers the significant income. This has stopped.
The easing of the lockdown during the summer demonstrated that there was an appetite to go out to eat and drink, with some businesses reporting, just before this lockdown, that they were hitting 2019 levels of the same period.
Clients have told us that there has been an increase in their customer spend per head. This makes sense, after having been mostly indoors for months mastering sourdough and redecorating, when we could go out, well why not make the most of it?
It has also been reported that 4 in 10 of those surveyed are happy to pay more in bars and restaurants than prior to the pandemic, reflecting an understanding of the challenges facing the industry.
National museum and gallery numbers have been seeing 20% to 35% of their visitor numbers, partly through social distancing measures, but also a lack of take up by the public.
However, smaller local museums have benefited from the loyalty of those living close by who feel more confident in making the shorter trip to a nearby attraction. This same behaviour has seen local independent restaurants trading well during this period compared to city-centre chains, several of which have already gone under.
The virus and our response to it has been moving swiftly, with us all entering a second lockdown as cases rise, our spirits are lifted with the promise of an effective vaccine.
A willingness by the public to spend more when they eat out must be rewarded, as well as their loyalty to our cultural institutions.
Now more than ever the catering provided in our museums and galleries must exceed the visitors’ expectations. They understand that the menus may be smaller to manage costs and ensure the quality of ingredients, but those dishes really must be lovely. We must up our game.
We must continue to find innovative solutions to manage social distancing, which in spite of a vaccine may well be a consideration for some to come. The industry has responded well to the pandemic with smart solutions to ordering, paying, and guest & staff safety but great service and a fun experience should not be lost in the process.
The corporate hire & events business will likely come back more slowly, but companies will still want to entertain and impress their clients and staff. Creating special experiences in amazing buildings will require the institutions to work closely with their catering partner, whether that is their in-house team or an external operator. For the events businesses to bounce back it has to be better than it was before. If we’re going to go out again it better be good.
Tonic London, the leading-edge hospitality agency and restaurant consultancy.