Welcome back to my quarterly HoroScoop edition. What a crazy Summer it's been, but fortunately it's been one of the sunniest I can remember for a long time. Planning a BBQ, picnic or eating alfresco once the restaurants opened post lockdown, was the order of the season. You'd be forgiven to think it was Mardi Gras every weekend in Soho, as punters enjoyed their new found freedoms of eating out and eating outside.
As the days start to draw in and the threat of more Covid restrictions loom, I decided to speak to my friends Simon Cromack, the new owner of the Baskerville in Henley-upon-Thames and Lukasz Fiedoruk, AGM of Brasserie Blanc Fulham Reach in Hammersmith to get a shop-floor view of what's happening in the industry.
And I apologise up front, that this edition unashamedly supports my friends in the industry!
So just how successful was the Chancellor's 'Eat out to Help Out' campaign?
What were the big changes in eating-out behaviour this summer?
Are you Covid ready this season?
Are diners ready to ditch their usual order when eating out to help out the planet?
And did you hear the one about bread that's not really bread?
As always, I'm curious to understand how people are adapting to the new normal and gain fresh insights on how this will impact the hospitality industry in the short, medium and longer term.
Explore more and read on...Allons-y!
JUST HOW SUCCESSFUL WAS THE 'EAT OUT TO HELP OUT' CAMPAIGN?
The Chancellor was praised for this innovative initiative to get people eating out again and supporting their local restaurants. It was hugely popular, with Brits enjoying 100m discounted meals at a cost of £522m by the end of August according to the FT. It was so successful that some restaurants continued the promotion into September, like Brasserie Blanc, by covering the shortfall themselves.
Lukasz says the promotion was very successful for his restaurant with trade increasing by 300 to 400% - Wednesday was definitely the new Saturday. The name was really catchy as it made people realise that eating out really helped the restaurant and the economy. People knew the restaurant industry was hit hard during lockdown so they felt good that they were helping out. We saw a 50/50 split of regulars coming one more night a week and the other half were first time diners. We managed to retain a lot of these new customers. They came and tried us and liked the experience so returned. Not many people came just for the main course or food only. We got the upsell because people were getting the discount and ‘reaching for the top shelf’ on this occasion.
Simon says it was very successful from a revenue point of view for the Baskerville. It enticed people out who were nervous to spend money in a public place because of Covid, but the offer was really good value. People could see first-hand that operators were taking their safety seriously like social distancing etc and once they were out, they felt safe. But it also introduced a new customer set who couldn’t normally afford an upscale dinner. It gave us exposure to a new customer and helped us decide as a business that we could run a successful promotion that made less margin but increased revenues. As long as you are an operator who takes people’s safety seriously, then people are willing to come back.
WHAT WERE THE BIG CHANGES IN EATING OUT BEHAVIOUR THIS SUMMER?
Simon says one of the big things he noticed over the summer was people wanting to feel safe so they could relax and enjoy good quality food and drink closer to home. They really enjoyed supporting their local venues more than previously. Value for money was also very important with our guests being more conscious of what they were spending. Having affordable good quality food is one of the most important things for us and our guests really appreciate this.
We’re in a very residential area, says Lukasz, and we saw our regulars coming in more often as people didn’t want to travel too far to eat out, like going into central London. There was a high influx of people coming in for a full substantial meal rather than just socialising and people were definitely booking more rather than just popping in, as they wanted to secure a table. Our guests were happy with our safety procedures, like reminding guests to sanitize, safety protocols, curfew etc. People really appreciated that we were taking it very seriously and I believe chose our restaurant because it was safe with a spacious seating area and a big outdoor terrace.
ARE YOU COVID READY THIS AUTUMN?
With the looming threat of more restrictions and the all important Christmas season on the horizon, I asked Simon and Lukasz to share their top tips for being Covid ready this Autumn.
Simon says he’s lost 30-40% of covers and thinks pubs will struggle to survive on the reduced seating during the Winter. I’m fortunate to have a large garden and during the summer it was ok as people sat outside, but now with the colder weather I had to think of something new, but on a low budget as I didn’t have £15-20k spare. So I went into partnership with a local marquee company, Lulu's, who put up the tent in my garden for free and I will ask my customers to help cover the cost. I will charge £1.50 per cover with an explanation on the menu. Lulu’s will get the £1.50 plus a small percentage of the food take. I’ve done the same with a local furniture hire company and I pay them a fee month by month based on my earnings. It’s a win win for all of us.
This enabled me to create a covered and heated outdoor space called 'Pioneer' that can serve 30 to 40 people for casual dining and drinks. It has an open kitchen where guests will see all the theatre of cooking over fire, food being plated up from the pass, and served directly to the table. It’s quirky, and appeals to a new set of punters.
At the time of writing, Lukasz was busy planning the launch of Brasseries Blanc's new Voilà promotion, a new service which lets their customers create & serve restaurant quality food & drink at home. He says we’re still living in uncertain times, are we going into lockdown again? Will the restaurants close again? So Voilà is a way to connect with customers at home. Obviously it’s a way of generating extra revenue as well. There’s still a lot of people who are not eating out, but want a restaurant quality meal at home. They want higher quality produce without having to go to specialist food markets and to wow their family at home. Voilà takes the hassle out of cooking and we can also offer wine pairings!
Lukasz is now turning his sights to the all important Christmas season. He says he's worried Christmas will just be another month, not the big festive uplift to sustain the downturn. So we’ve relaxed our cancellation policy and made the Christmas menu very affordable from £30/person and a fiver for a glass of prosecco. He's optimistic but knows it will be a challenge.
DINERS READY TO DITCH THEIR USUAL ORDER WHEN EATING OUT TO HELP OUT THE PLANET.
According to the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) the only way to really understand how much people want to tuck into tasty food that’s also going to help them take a bite out of climate change, is to ask them. The findings from their recent national survey, the first to explore consumers’ readiness to turn this change in attitudes into action when eating out, also reveals that consumers expect to return to eating out as often as they did pre-March 2020, once guidelines allow. More than three quarters (76%) said they would return to their pre-lockdown eating out levels of up to four times a month, which is good news for the industry.
Diners are also ready to turn their raised concern for the environment into action and ditch their favourite menu choices for sustainable dishes and about three-quarters said they were ready to pay for food otherwise destined for the bin, with a similar proportion keen to try British versions of exotic dishes using local ingredients.
WHEN IS BREAD NOT REALLY BREAD?
Well according to the Irish Supreme Court, which has recently ruled that Subway's sandwich rolls don't meet the legal definition of bread because they have too much sugar, a whopping 10% of the weight of the flour!
The case brought before the court by a Subway franchisee in County Galway that believed the rolls should be exempt from value-added tax. It seems this move has backfired spectacularly, but not to be daunted, Subway could take the initiative and launch a cheeky new campaign called 'I can't believe it's not Bread'.