Hotels and restaurants slowly bouncing forward

As it appeared in the Daily Nation on June 23rd 2020

Dr. Lucy Kiruthu

It is a new dawn for many in the hospitality industry. I have closely watched the reopening of hotels and restaurants globally for dine-in and accommodation services. It is not business as usual, operations are running differently and the customer experience has changed. The sector is determined to bounce forward.  Last week, I visited a restaurant that recently reopened for dine-in customers. It was evident that much had changed.  It felt different; it was strange to be served by a waiter with a face shield. The menu was no longer available; there were instructions on how to download it on the phone.

Hotels and restaurants are making major investments to meet new regulatory requirements for reopening. Many have remodelled their dining areas to allow for social distancing. In Kenya, ensuring that staff are COVID-19 negative, having in place thermometers to confirm no fever, providing hand-washing stations and ensuring staff wear protective equipment are among other requirements for reopening. To stay contactless, most restaurants no longer have a menu. In parts of Europe, sit-down restaurants are using open spaces for better air circulation and others are going to the extent of shielding customers by providing enclosed dining cubicles.  Globally, hotels offering accommodation are going contactless and keyless to reduce interactions during check-in and check-out. This seems to be the way to go.  Those who previously offered conferencing and conventions are yet to figure out the future as these services have since gone virtual. The industry has been adversely affected; it is certainly not easy.

When I made the maiden visit for a dine-in experience after the reopening, I had mixed feelings. I expected that a safety briefing and a welcome back message would be part of the experience but it was not. I was curious to find out how the waiters were maintaining the physical distance as they served the food. It took me some time to relax and feel safe.  Meeting new requirements is not the only headache for hotels and restaurants. Many are worried about whether the customers will have the confidence to return. Many are running campaigns that focus on their commitment to putting in place safety and hygiene measures. By sharing details of their safety measures, hotels hope to win back customers and reassure them of low risk of infection. The key question is – have your customers missed you? Those with loyal customers are likely to bounce forward much faster because their customers have missed them and will be back soon.

This season has provided hotels and restaurants an opportunity to rethink what they do and how they do it. Without much travel happening, some hotels are now targeting the locals. It is certainly a difficult time to win new customers given that purchasing power has also declined.  Others are rethinking their menu and their customer experience. For example, McDonald’s has revamped its U.S. menu by dropping off several low margin items. Others are replacing buffets with à la carte menus. Hotels and restaurants have no option, to survive, they must figure out how best to attract customers and provide them with a peace of mind!

Dr. Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer. Connect via twitter @KiruthuLucy

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