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1–2 July 2024
Olympia London

Helpful Strategies for Prolonging Customer Presence

The hospitality industry is an ever-changing one, although the changes of the past few years have been particularly challenging, and it’s never been more important for businesses to get customers in the door, and ideally keep them there for longer.

A variety of pressures are affecting the UK on-trade significantly, not least the cost of living crisis, as well as changes in the wake of the pandemic that have resulted in an increased number of people working from home, at least some days of the week. But there are ways to counter the negative effects, and make the most of the changing landscape.

“Customer habits are certainly changing, but we are finding that they are still prioritising great value and experiences when choosing where to spend their time,” says Graham Hall, director at Drake & Morgan.

Xavier Padovani, partner in Experimental Group, says: “People are still coming out big time, but now we have to constantly be creative and focus on the guest experience. It’s not enough to simply provide refreshments, cocktails nowadays – you have to provide a real 360 guest experience.” 

Customer retention strategies

Experimental Group’s venue Stereo, in London’s Covent Garden, is a good example of this, offering cocktails, dining and music. Padovani outlines the ways that it provides the guest experience that he’s talking about.

“In Stereo, guests can come along in any sized groups, as we have a huge capacity in the venue. We offer entertainment from solo artists or duo talent which starts from 5-8pm, then the house band takes over with various guest acts finishing off at midnight, with DJs until 3am,” he says, adding that the venue is host to a number of event nights too, teaming up with Clash Magazine, for example. “The guest experience means you need to adapt. On Fridays and Saturdays, guests tend to want a drink, but fast! So you have to use techniques and other aspects to increase the quality of the service, depending on the time of night and how busy you are.”

At a rather different style of venue, at The Beaumont Hotel in Mayfair, the considerations are nevertheless similar, according to director of beverage Antonino Lo Iacono. “We’re always looking at ways to encourage more footfall into the bars and restaurants at the hotel,” he says, describing plans for cigar dinners on the terrace outside Le Magritte Bar starting in April, as well as monthly games nights in the hotel’s Gatsby Room. There are also plans for a series of wine dinners to be held at the hotel’s Colony Grill.

Image credits to Helen Cathcart

“At Drake & Morgan, we’ve found by being adaptable and providing inventive activations, we have been able to increase visits and dwell time during different parts of the day and week, easing the pressure on trade during other times,” says Hall. Events like DJ-led day-dancing events like Fat Tony’s Full Fat Brunch are successful at getting customers into venues at different times of the day. “We’ve found customers have moved their socialising to earlier time slots with an activity or experience that’s away from the norm, and this has ultimately increased the time they spend at our venues.”

Thursday’s the new Friday

Hall acknowledges that there’s been a big shift in which days of the week are busiest. “There’s no denying that Friday footfall, especially in places such as The City of London, is far lower than it used to be,” he says, but adds that he’s seeing an increase in corporate customers socialising together from Tuesday to Thursday, both after work and also at lunchtimes, as a result of spending less time in the office together. “This mid-week growth, combined with a wide programme of innovative weekend events in our more traditionally Monday – Friday bar locations, has resulted in more balanced trading.”

At The Beaumont Hotel, Lo Iacono has also seen this move towards busier Tuesdays to Thursdays, as well as Saturday nights and Sunday lunches. “We’re creating new reasons for regulars to return more often, even on days when they are not in town,” he says, giving the example of the hotel’s cigar club on its terrace and bar. “What we’ve also noticed is that our guests are now drinking, eating and smoking far better quality, rather than focusing on quantity. They may be here a little less often, but when they are here, they upgrade.”

Image credits to ZAC and ZAC

The shift away from Fridays and weekends, along with broader changes to consumer habits, are particularly felt by late-night venues. To address this, and the impact on other venues too, the Mayor of London recently introduced a trial of off-peak fares on Fridays, covering Tube and rail across London and parts of the Southeast. The trial, running until the end of May, is accompanied by a website providing details of venues, as well as museums, theatres and more, with Friday offers during the trial. Gaucho restaurants, for example, are offering 20% off on Fridays until the end of March.

Time will tell whether the initiative is able to bring about a significant change in people’s habits. In the meantime, it’s promising that the impact in hospitality venues is at least being recognised. As the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan said when the trial was launched: “It’s clear that many people are still not coming into the office on Fridays compared to before the pandemic, which is having a major knock-on effect on our shops, restaurants, pubs and cultural venues.”

Jeff Horton, owner of The 100 Club on Oxford Street, believes the initiative “is a much-needed shot in the arm for the night time industry, and for business in general. Every bit of help is needed in encouraging people to visit our fantastic city more frequently in the evening, as well as during the day. Hospitality, in particular, needs this positive step as it continues to recover from Covid and the economic challenges we all currently face.”

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