Hospitality: The Next Six Months – Thoughts From Workforce Management Specialist Bizimply

As hospitality prepares to reopen after the long Covid shutdown, businesses will have to adapt to a more complex world, warns Conor Shaw, CEO of workforce management specialist Bizimply.

“Business as usual” is definitely not in prospect as hospitality businesses prepare to reopen their premises. The challenge is to re-engage with both customers and employees, after more than 12 months shut other than during a few trading ‘windows’ with restrictions, imposed as a result of restrictions put in place to tackle the Covid pandemic.

Even if all goes to plan, and businesses are able to trade outdoors from April and indoors from May, there are a number of important questions that will need to be asked and answered. One of the first will be, what kind of physical condition will be the premises be in?

If shuttering sites was challenging, reopening them is likely to be even more so. Operators will need to let utilities companies know that they want the electricity, gas, phones and WiFi switched back on, which may or may not be straightforward. Every item of equipment, from hand held payment devices to microwaves and mixers in the kitchen, will have to be checked and, if needed, repaired.

The overall condition of each site will need to be assessed for any deterioration during closure. Above all, is the premises still safe for staff and customers? Health & safety checks will be needed, and necessary works carried out before either can be allowed in.

More fundamentally, most businesses will have to rethink the overall trading model as well. Where previously the choice for customers may have been eat-in or takeaway, new options put in place to deal with the lockdown may not be straightforward to withdraw. Cook-at-home food boxes, make-it-yourself cocktails and similar concepts have proved very popular, and many customers who have been able to order online or by app for delivery and click-and-collect during lockdown will expect these options to continue.

With these additional sales channels to juggle, alongside re-establishing their existing offers, operators will need to ensure that they not only have the technological infrastructure in place to service multiple routes to market but also the physical capacity. A chef eagerly preparing to delight returning eat-in customers may not take kindly to learning that part of his kitchen is being used to process cook-at-home food box orders. A number of operators are already realising they will need to operate dark kitchens to service the home market as well as their ‘live’ trading units. Closely monitoring customer behaviour and staff engagement will be critical as a “third normal” emerges.

Multiply all these considerations across multiple sites, and there is a great deal of time and, potentially, significant investment, required for operators to get their businesses ready to reopen, and all before the necessary staffing levels can even be considered. That’s when things could really get interesting.

Simply digging out the hand-written pre-covid staff rota and writing a new date at the top won’t cut the mustard. A more complex trading model almost certainly requires new team roles and work patterns, as does the need for social distancing and table service, which are likely to be a trading requirement for some time to come.

Staff teams which once worked together like a well-oiled machine will at best be rusty, and may well require new parts. Most businesses won’t know exactly which staff are available until the word goes out to return from furlough. However well a business has looked after its people, the reality is that some will have looked elsewhere during the lockdown, and as always it’s the best people in hospitality who have the most options when it comes to employment choices. Disruption and uncertainty will have taken their toll.

Getting the key people back in place, including GMs and team leaders, will be an important first step. They need to be highly visible, front of house, reassuring staff and customers, and helping to overcome the understandable anxieties that everyone will be feeling in the weeks after reopening. If they can do this, staff will feel motivated and start loving their job again, and customers will relax and start enjoying their visits to the pub or restaurant.

The right technology, such as staff rota, HR, operations and payroll management systems, will reduce the hours GMs need to spend on back of house admin, and keep them front of house, where they need to be to support their teams to overcome the challenges ahead rebuild their businesses.

The next six months will be a challenging time for hospitality. Alongside established businesses coming back from lockdown, there are gaps in the market that will attract entrepreneurs with new concepts looking to disrupt the hospitality market. Preparation is the key – those who aren’t ready for what’s to come may not be around for long in the post-Covid hospitality market.

As well as being challenging, however it will also be exciting, in effect recreating a whole industry from scratch. Opportunity is all around us.

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