By Mark Flanagan, Chair of the Safe to Trade Scheme Governance Board and CEO at Shield Safety Group.
Super Saturday was always going to be a massive flop for an industry that the UK government has treated with little regard, throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
So when data released last week revealed that people have not embraced an easing of lockdown restrictions in England’s pubs, bars and restaurants, it was no surprise.
According to the Coffer Peach Business Tracker, which compares total and like-for-like food and drink sales across 44 UK companies, there was a drop in sales of about 40% among venues that opened their doors at the beginning of the July. Pubs that were open in the week beginning 6 July posted a 39% decline in sales compared with the same period last year, while bars were down 43% and restaurants down 40%.
From a litany of conflicting advice, the last minute notice on an official reopening date, regulators with differing views on compliance, to a lack of communication, the disregarding on industry advice on reopening timings and ministers taking part in photo opps that sent out conflicting messages about PPE, the kind of support the sector needs from the government, just hasn’t been there.
It is now evident from these numbers that consumer trust in the government’s safety guidelines for the sector isn’t there either, which puts the industry in very real danger of collapse. This is further supported by research from the UK hospitality industry’s Safe To Trade Scheme which was undertaken as the sector reopened. Findings from the Safe to Trade Consumer Insight Report clearly outline a lack of faith in the government’s approach, with 51% of consumers unsure or not confident that that measures required go far enough to ensure their personal safety. And of those who are confident in the government’s measures, 56% show high levels of uncertainty when it comes to the safety of people at risk or shielding.
The research also found that 88% of respondents want venues to above and beyond the government advice to provide maximum protection (88%) and nine out of 10 respondents will quite happily choose one venue over another if it clearly shows that it conforms to, or surpasses, government safety standards. All of which points to a need for the industry to do more.
If the hospitality industry is to survive, get people back through its doors and bums back on seats, then it has to snatch the Covid safety mantle off the government and prove to consumers that it is going beyond the existing guidelines to put robust safety practices in place. And most of all, it needs to be consistent – what is undertaken in one venue, should be replicated where possible in the next.
Consumer confidence in the sector has taken a huge hit and the wave of venue closures only days after the sector’s opening weekend and headlines showing customers not adhering to social distancing has seen it dip even further. Consumers are scared and many are voting with their credit cards by choosing to stay home.
Venue owners now need to grab the bull by the horns, when it comes to Covid-safety, if the industry is to supercharge consumer confidence and demonstrate that cinemas, restaurants, pubs, bars and hotels are COVID-safe spaces.
We will have to wait and see what next month brings but if the uptake of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme is low or the R rate increases as a result of too many being out and about, then the industry is going to have to do something radical to overcome the public perception of the hospitality industry being a pandemic hotspot.