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Rising consumer confidence is the blue sky we’re all looking for

Published:  08 March, 2023

Hospitality has had a rough three years. As the dust settles on Covid, we are still coming to terms with the impact of closures and restrictions which wreaked havoc on the nation’s ability to socialise, and this cut a vast swathe through industry profits. Ultimately, Covid-19 decimated sales and led to thousands of venue closures and job losses. But a new survey looking at consumer opinion offers a smidgeon of light at the end of the pandemic and cost of living tunnel.

After being bludgeoned by the lack of opportunity to drink out during 2020 and 2021, and now rising costs, CGA’s latest Reputation survey shows there is still an encouraging level of eagerness among the public to visit bars, pubs and restaurants.

The survey canvasses consumers in three European markets and the results are intriguing: two in five (41%) British consumers who have been out to eat and drink out in the past six months have done so at least weekly. This puts the UK right in the middle of the sample, higher than Germany (35%) though lower than France (44%).

Read more: Chris Losh – hospitality sector reels from strikes 

Across these three countries, nearly three-quarters (71%) also collectively agreed that eating and drinking out is the treat they most look forward to.

The figures go some way to counteracting the dominant media view, which tends to dwell on the challenges posed by the soaring costs of energy, logistics and labour, rather than the reasons for confidence.

This isn’t to say there aren’t struggles. The cost of living crisis is inevitably impacting spending and frequency: well over half of Brits say they are worried about cost increases (65%) and are trying to save money (49%). Three in 10 (30%) are visiting venues in Britain less often than they did in 2021 and this number exceeds that of those who are going out more frequently (25%). Even more consumers are making fewer visits than they did before the pandemic in 2019 (42%), with patterns similar in France and Germany.

From speaking with businesses, however, it is clear the opportunity is ripe for those looking to meet – rising – expectations.

“We’ve had such a busy weekend,” says Marc Hough, owner of Manchester indie hybrid, Cork of the North. “The challenge is actually to make sure we’ve always got something new, as our customers devour new stuff. I think it’s probably one of the reasons why we’re still here, as we really try to mix things up with new wines from places like Croatia and Bosnia.”

Granted, Cork of the North is somewhat insulated as a hybrid business. It is able to offset corkage losses with retail gains and vice versa; though of course, having a hybrid business is no guarantee of success.

As a result, Hough stresses the importance of treating staff well and the benefits of long-term thinking on the overall mix.

“If you’re working here, you will work 40 hours a week and no more, because you’ve got to have a quality of life and work/life balance. It’s so important, because losing good staff is also a cost of business.

“Training is also really key. If you’re really interested [in wine], we will teach you and put you through the WSET.”

With the cost of things on the seemingly never-ending rise, what comes blazing through is that businesses need to deliver the goods in return for consumers’ patronage.

The good news is that businesses are largely meeting people’s expectations: nine in 10 (88%) say they were satisfied with their recent visits to venues.

Chris Sparling, customer experience strategy director at Reputation, told Harpers: “It’s been an exceptionally tough few years for hospitality, but our latest report shows that there is light even when times are challenging. People still want to go out to eat and drink, but with the cost of living crisis, hospitality venues are going to need to make sure they are providing a quality service that matches customers’ expectations when they do go out.

“This report has shown that customers are making decisions based on social media content, Google reviews, online booking systems and ease of access to menus, making it more important than ever to listen to the voice of the customer through all the touchpoints they reach your business. Customer loyalty and repeat custom needs to become a primary focus, so that when customers are spending their money, they are spending it in your venue – again and again.”

Guest satisfaction might therefore be the Oxford Word of the Year in 2023. In 2022, the term – the first ever chosen by public vote – was ‘goblin mode’. For those not up with that particular lingo, ‘goblin mode’ refers to giving in to ‘unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly or greedy’ behaviour. No guesses where that came from. All are at least probably guilty of some of that behaviour over the past three years.

Time to give consumers that extra reason to crawl out from under the rock and look at the blue spring sky. Maybe then we’ll all be in ‘freedom mode’.