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CONVENIENCE, CONNECTION & PERSONALISATION - hospitality in the new post CV-19 World

So think back 4 short months. 4 months to a time when you didn't have to worry where your next punter was coming from; 4 months ago when you could have a coffee with a mate or even a bunch of mates; 4 months ago when you didn't have to think about how many you had in your venue - other than what your legal capacity said, and you didnt have to worry about where they were sitting, as long as there was room for a chair; 4 months ago, when great service and the right price was enough to seal the return visit from your guest at least once.

4 months later, here we are celebrating the re-opening of McDonalds drive through; here we are eagerly anticipating the return of premiership football behind closed doors; race meetings with no punters at the course; queueing for 20 minutes to get in your local supermarket, and staying at least 2m away from everybody you work with....

4 months later, how time has changed.

Did you ever think that a full venue offering great service would be a problem, and require re-thinking?

Yet here we are in June 2020, infection rates are falling and we begin to wonder how on earth we return to business as usual - or even what business as usual feels like. Will business as usual be enough for our loyal guests that have been hit so hard. Probably not. Lets be honest, the only story that will matter, once the Lockdown is eventually lifted, is the story of the first experience your guest has in your venue. As with any tall story you can imagine, its being told over a post lockdown, socially distanced drink, whilst the last crumbs of the first sausage roll to pass lips in 4 months crumble to the plate... it will be embellished with exageration the more it is told. If the experience has been a first class one then the embellishment is delightful, desired and quite frankly worth it’s weight in gold! But, if that first experience is anything other than WOW... then sadly, the story will be embellished in a negative way and this will have a significant impact on whether guests continue to choose you to be their preferred place to be post COVID-19. Whether you are a high street retailer, a concession or a workplace feeding provider, the streets and smoking shelters will be full of punters with a new found freedom, and a newly installed confidence to choose. They have spent 4 months not spending their disposable income with you... not being allowed to spend their disposable furlough on treats has become strangely normal, the saving is lovely, and not spending, well, Its become kind of a habit....

The impact of this virus has been almost apocalyptic for our industry. The impact on individuals - our colleagues and friends currently on furlough, quite a lot of which will never return to the front line, because of financial pressures bearing down on industry businesses - the impact on them, is quite frankly horrifying. As we predict job losses in the trade of over 50%, we have a duty of care to each and every one that believed in furlough - the governments job retention exercise...

Never in the field of hospitality, has so much been owed to so many by so few

Do we not owe it to those people to resurrect our sector as quickly as possible ? Do we not owe so much to so few for their services of the past ? Do we not owe it to them, to never miss the opportunity to wow our guests from day one of our emergence and ensure our businesses return in great shape? Not just great shape, but better shape than we left them in February or March... Better shape with as many secure jobs as we can muster, and a bright future.

Do you, as a professional manager, want to be remembered for your naïvety, as you drift back into a routine that isn't suitable for post apocalypse World - or worse still for allowing your only thought to be shareholder value - instantly throwing your business out of shape ? Or do you, as a professional leader, want to be remembered for your hard-hitting, radically honest and forward thinking attitude... for me - and for the benefit of my team, most definitely the latter.

Prior to the “lockdown” I would talk to whoever would listen about the difference between service and experience and that there was no place for the words 'good service' in any successful hospitality organisations vocabulary. A service is defined as, being something that is delivered consistently, to brand guidelines and follows the agreed brand standards. An experience on the other hand delivers all of the brand standards but it is supercharged with that spark, that an emotional connection between the guest and the hospitality provider brings. An experience is created at the touch point, by a human being, not by a faceless marketeer believing a 15p saving on your sandwich is somehow going to convince you to revert to normal.

this is a new normal.

Think for a second, about the safety briefing before you jet off on a long-awaited holiday. Straight-faced and sharply dressed air hostesses gesturing towards the plane's emergency exits are what most passengers expect from the routinely serious safety briefing which kicks off all flights.

But one flight attendant soared above and beyond to deliver a side-splittingly silly demonstration which infected the cabin with fits of laughter. He humoured the Westjet trip from Alberta, Canada to Arizona USA with a slapstick act which saw him struggle to fasten the seat belt and yank the oxygen mask down like a madman before 'accidentally' pinging himself with the elastic.

WestJet airlines is still safe, complies with all necessary due diligence but brings its own practical magic to the fore delivering an experience not just the “service” of a safety briefing.

On a visit to Seattle, in 1997, John Christensen, owner of ChartHouse Learning, observed fish sellers at Pike Place Fish Market, tossing trout and salmon through the air of the market providing high energy which energized many pedestrians passing by on their lunch breaks. They gave their complete attention to each customer and ensured each had an enjoyable visit. Christensen noticed the actual work of selling fish was repetitive, cold and exhausting. It occurred to him that the fishmongers might not enjoy every part of their job, but they chose to bring joy to how they approached it. They also sold a lot of damned fish.

Christensen identified four simple practices anyone could apply to their work and life, four concepts of:

  1. choosing your attitude

  2. play

  3. make someone's day

  4. be there

Believe me, I have seen these guys at Pike Place, the environment changes to welcome positivity into the work place. If you really want to know how to create a new normal, without a ton of investment.... This is it. ChartHouse Learning call these concepts The Fish! Philosophy - I guess we could call them the new normal.

Want to know more ? I tell you, I have seen the market in person and been on the course. Both are incredible, and well worth the effort: Its worth it - follow the links below:

Now think about your teams! Ask yourself prior to lockdown were your teams emotionally connecting with the guest? Were you consistently generating business review scores with a rating above 90%? Did your managers understand the difference between service and experience and were they capable of enabling their teams around this concept?

If the answer was no to any of these questions, then well done for the honest self appraisal. Now, with that in mind you have the time to do something about it prior to re-opening. Make no mistake the delivery of a consistently good service is not going to be story worthy, your guests are not going to hang around a smoking shelter discussing how lovely it is to be back in the comfortable bosom of what they left behind. Their lives have changed, their homes became their castles and their 3rd place no longer your restaurant, cafe, workplace canteen or shop - but their own kitchen, brimming with love and sustenance produced in that ilk. Nope, the story needs to be wow, through the delivery of an experience that is emotionally connected and genuinely draws your guest into the middle of your personalised proposition.

So... lets take a look at the difference between service and experience - from a Hospitality Perspective

Use this time now to think long and hard about what you need to do to ensure that you take accountability for ensuring the leadership of the delivery of story worthy remarkable experiences. Again radically honest but this is within your gift as the manager or leader of your business - you just have to choose to make the difference - regardless of how hard it appears it is going to be.

The first story is the only story that will be worth telling and retelling!

To deliver a remarkable experience the following checklist may be of use to ensure that your team members embrace ways of working that are conducive to the telling of that story. This is the magic, the special stuff which will deliver the practicality, that in turn will create stories worth telling - the stories, the wows, not ouches that will have a positive financial impact on your business. After all we have some pretty big steps to take, in order to recover from the damage caused by Lockdown.

First of all - be safe

Lets be right... if you haven't already done these, never mind thought about them... youre halfway to trouble, and no matter how good your WOW planning, almost guaranteed to fail, on the grounds that you don't care.

Standard advice for all hospitality businesses, is to modify business operations and work practices in the post-coronavirus environment to discourage transmission of all contagious diseases in the workplace.

Must do:

  1. Add hand sanitizing dispensers, tissues, disposable wipes, no-touch disposal receptacles, and handwashing posters at key locations in the front and back of the house/workplace.

  2. Patrons, visitors, and guests should be reminded when entering and leaving the restaurant, breakfast, or dining room to disinfect their hands with disinfectant gel, preferably located at the entrance to those facilities.

  3. Encourage non-contact methods of greeting.

  4. Promote tap and pay to limit the handling of credit cards and cash. With contactless payments now at £45 limit... this will help

  5. Implement duty-to-warn procedures if COVID-19 exposure/outbreak is reported at a particular location. What is the alert response system ?

  6. Encourage employees to perform daily self-heath checks prior to returning to work. Issue temperature checking equipment, and implement a self check declaration as well as auditting from a business obligation.

  7. Additional employee breaks to increase the frequency of handwashing by staff. Maybe split their half hour lunch to 2 x 15 minutes, or if youre a good boss, give an extra 2 x 5 minute comfort breaks (not to be confused with 15 minute fag breaks)

  8. Continuous disinfection technologies.

  9. Evaluate your infectious disease preparedness/response plan / risk assessment and modify and update it as needed.

  • Supply chain resources (people you cant control directly)

  • Environmental strategies (cleaning and disinfecting practices)

  • Procedures for staff illness - critical illness cover - furlough removal plan

  • Procedures for customer illness - what determines shutdown ? Think what you would do, if you found an unidentified object, in a brown paper bag, with an alarm clock taped to it ?... now you're on the right lines - whats your cascade / escalation policy ?

  • Staff/customer notifications - don't panic !!

  • Business continuity plan

So we keep people safe, what about keeping people fed ?

Make the most of takeout and delivery.

  1. No-contact takeout and delivery may become the new norm - for example, hot lockers, takeaway hot bags, new packaging...

  2. Invest in mobile or order-ahead options with limited or no-contact pick-up

  3. Consider providing a meal with multiple portions in lieu of individual entrees; (i.e., a whole pan of lasagna with a large salad will save on packaging, avoid delivery and/or third-party fees, and generate revenue for multiple meals rather than one or two – also providing a family or couple gets a few days’ worth of meals with limited outside contact). Needs must in these tough times - limited choice will very quickly become the new normal, and the return of specialist retailers to what they are good at, not what they evolved into... (I mean when did WHSmith become a lunch retailer ??)

Then this is where the competetive edge becomes apparent... just how good are your team ?

Creating the Wow, avoiding the Ouch

  • Team members are comfortable exerting their own personalities in order to demonstrate expertise and engage with the guest.

  • Team members are engaged to take charge of a situation and make sure the guest is satisfied rather than simply following the rules! Imagine having a full 2m of embarrassment avoiding space between guests...

  • Team members are encouraged to express their opinions to line managers for the benefit of the guest experience. I am a great believer, now more than ever, that 100 ideas that add 1% each to a guest experie(nce, is much better than a silver bullet costing a fortune that changes 100% of what you do...

  • Team members are developed to be confident doing what is right for the guest - first time, every time

  • Team members proactively diagnose the guest needs and do everything within their power to not just meet them but exceed them

  • Team members emotionally connect with a guest and build a relationship that allows expression

  • Team members are comfortable formulating a guest led conversation that is much more “Human Being” than “Human Doing” and does not follow a predetermined script

Finally, and perhaps the most important one

  • Team members provide clear guidance rather than excessive choice – if a team member has built the right connections on an emotional level with the guest, they will be able to recommend the right thing rather than encouraging the guest to choose. After all we all want an easy life – so make it easy for the guest to choose.

Use this gift of time to address your teams competence and capability to deliver amazing experiences that will be told for years to come! The first story will be the only story worth telling - you are in control of whether it is a fabulous or one you would rather forget!

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