nick strangeway

How bars must adapt to post-Covid industry

04 May, 2021

Nick Strangeway on how bars must adapt to a new and improved hospitality sector as we emerge from lockdown.

The bar industry will never return to how it was before Covid. Venues have had to adapt so much and be so malleable that new routines, technology and heightened consumer expectations are creating a new norm for hospitality as it reopens.

Videos of rammed beer gardens across Europe suggest we could bounce back in no time, but this is a mere mirage for cocktail bars. I fear a hot summer could be a hindrance to the industry. Traditionally the summer trading months are bad for bars because beer gardens are preferable to a dark speakeasy, but now there’s the added competition of home drinking. Many consumers will have got used to drinking and socialising in their gardens because they are more convenient and significantly cheaper – and many will have fresh garden furniture covered by their redundant holiday cash.

Therefore as we edge closer to a fully reopened hospitality sector, it has never been more important to be prepared for a new look industry. In previous re-openings some changes were enforced in order to reduce contact time, but if implemented effectively they should improve customer experience in the long term. Table service, advanced booking and cashless payments will not only make those Covid-anxious guests feel safe, but speed up service and increase revenues.

Frankly, there hasn’t really been an excuse not to train staff during lockdown and things like floor plans and service routines should be well oiled for a return to full indoor capacity. Efficiency should be at the heart of everything and I can see even premium bars being run more like a fast kitchen, with nearly all prep being completed before opening and reduced interaction between guests and staff.

Post-Covid, customers will have no reservations using phones to book, order drinks and pay. Pre-bottled cocktails are also widely accepted because of the home delivery boom over lockdown, so a drink could be touching lips less than a minute after being ordering from a customer’s phone. In the restaurant trade consumers like to look at a menu before going somewhere new, so why not take it a step further and give them the function to order drinks in advance of arrival?

Another happy repercussion of Covid-19 is that premium bars will naturally become more sustainable. Pre-pandemic ‘sustainability’ was a trendy buzzword, but now bars will be counting the pennies and creating less waste as a result. The solution for premium bars cannot be to buy cheaper stock either, because customers will still be expecting the top-quality drinks they were accustomed to in yesteryear.

All things considered, the industry should be a better and more efficient sector a er reopening. However, it still seems unlikely that revenues will immediately return to the ‘glory days’ of 2019, so it’s imperative to keep as many income streams open as possible. If you’ve got a bottled cocktail range, keep delivering it. If you started serving food, don’t close the kitchen. As we emerge into a new and improved hospitality world, even the most progressive bars will need to spend cautiously and save wisely as the race for the survival of the fittest is just beginning.

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