During a recent webinar, experts from our Commercial Property and Employment and Commercial teams looked back on the first experiences of re-opening for the hospitality sector. They were joined by local and international clients from the food and drink sector, who shared their experiences of opening up again post lock down. James Anderson, a licencing lawyer from Poppleston Allen provided his insight as well.
During discussions, a few key themes emerged, which may be of real help and interest to those in the hospitality sector who have either opened their doors again recently, or are still planning on how to do so.
Getting up and running again
One key point raised during the webinar was that it was much more straightforward to close premises down and go into lockdown, than it has been to start up again.
While many premises may have been open for delivery or take away, some businesses completely closed certain branches, only to discover issues when planning on how to re-open them. Examples were given of broken fridges, with ongoing issues over getting access to skilled engineers to fix equipment.
Those organisations still in the planning stages of re-opening need to consider that they may encounter issues with equipment and that waiting times to have any issues fixed may well be longer than usual.
Keeping staff engaged
There was also discussion around keeping employees engaged both while on lockdown, and in getting back to business.
Many organisations furloughed staff, or cut down their working hours and participants in the webinar spoke about the importance of ongoing communication with all staff during lockdown as well as ensuring they are engaged, comfortable and safe coming back to work.
The use (or not) of face masks for staff and customers was a big talking point throughout the webinar. The feeling was that there is a lot of confusion from the general public over when and where face masks are required.
There was also considerable feedback that staff members were generally not keen to wear face masks while at work. Certainly, none of the businesses in attendance were making the wearing of face masks for staff mandatory, although many were happy to provide them for staff if they wished to wear them.
On a similar theme, while some establishments were happy for their staff to wear disposable gloves if they wished, others had implemented a ‘zero gloves’ policy, as they felt their use may make people complacent abut washing their hands.
Back to business
By all accounts it has been a busy time since restrictions were lifted on 4 July, with some participants reporting a massive increase on bookings from the same time period last year, which is encouraging.
It seems those establishments with large outside spaces are doing especially well, as people are keen to be out and about, but still do not want to sit in enclosed spaces indoors. Bookings have also been more spread out, to accommodate demand, with previously quiet periods now busy. Restaurants have also reported being able to be slightly more bullish in terms of time limits for tables too.
Some businesses also spoke about introducing apps for table service, which have improved productivity and had resulted in an increase in customer spend.
Letting customers know what to expect
The experience of going out to a pub, café or restaurant is of course different now to how it has been in the past. There was an interesting discussion amongst participants about the best way to make customers feel comfortable and also understand the new rules and procedures.
Some establishments have taken to emailing customers once they have booked, to outline what their experience will be like now, and this has received very positive feedback from clients so far.
While comprehensive, the feeling is that the guidance issued so far from the Government is fairly loose. Indeed, apart from having to have a risk assessment, the rest of the guidance so far is advisory rather than mandatory.
There is a risk that this could lead to a number of grey areas arising and businesses are advised to ensure they keep up to date with the latest guidance issued from the Government to ensure they comply with any mandatory changes.
In terms of the recent, temporary reduction in VAT, there were mixed responses. The majority of businesses welcomed it as a way to recoup losses made during lockdown, and had not heard of many establishments who were passing the saving on to customers.
One interesting approach discussed was instead to pass it on to staff as a ‘VAT bonus’ in recognition of their hard work during the reopening period.
The Chancellor’s new voucher scheme, ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ was also discussed. Restaurants, bars, cafes and other establishments who use the scheme can offer a 50% reduction, up to a maximum of £10 per person, to all non-takeaway diners throughout August on food and non-alcoholic drinks.
Customers do not need a voucher as participating establishments will just remove the discount from their bill. Businesses can then simply reclaim the discounted amount through an online service. Claims can be made on a weekly basis and will be paid into bank accounts within five working days.
The scheme is open to eligible establishments across the UK and can be used all day, every Monday to Wednesday, between 3 and 31 August 2020. However, businesses need to register for the scheme by the 31 July.