The only thoughts that are really filling my head at the moment are around covid-19, the new rules that came out earlier this week and their impact on customer behaviour in our sector.
From my own experience of listening to customers recently, they tend to fall into one of four groups and each of these groups will be reacting in different ways to the national news (and to their own specific local lock-down situation).
1. Very cautious. Concerned about their own health and/or shielding others
For this group of people, the new rules will not, potentially, make a great deal of difference in terms of their own socialising plans. They are not likely to go out any more than they have done over the past few months. The escalating situation though could make them feel more vulnerable and more concerned.
This is now the time when those operators who were heavily involved in their communities from March and lock-down number one, might spring back into action. This time though they will be running their normal-ish business as well as trying to help those in need. They may not be able to handle delivery, cope with click and collect, open a community shop, sell online, rally round their customers or run errands in the way they did before but they will try.
I have just received this from an NHS Volunteer Responder that suggests concern and activity is ratcheting up: “With reports of a significant increase in the number of covid infections, we need your help so we can continue to support the NHS and vulnerable people in your community. I am writing to ask you to please switch back to on-duty and start volunteering by accepting tasks. If you didn’t receive any tasks earlier this year, please be assured that more than 70% of volunteers on duty each week now receive a task notification.”
2. Cautious. Not necessarily shielding but also not prepared to take unnecessary risks
These customers will be reassured by the new measures with regard to face masks for teams in pubs and restaurants. I have seen this to be their biggest concern in surveys along with wanting lots of stations for hand sanitising and feeling reassured that places are being kept clean.
Anecdotally, they tend to believe that young people are blatantly ignoring the rules (a perception fanned by the likes of The Mail) and that the curfew will, therefore, be a good thing. This government action may well convince them they are OK to go out now more than they have done recently.
Operators could contact these people, socially and digitally, and reiterating the steps they are now taking in line with, and perhaps even beyond (eg, loo cleaning/table cleaning/kitchen cleaning) government requirements.
3. Realistic. Would admit they don’t always abide by the rules (“everyone has done something that they shouldn’t have”) but generally comply
These new rules are unlikely to change their re-adopted eating-out habits after Eat Out To Help Out. They take their own precautions and expect others to do the same. If they want to go out then they will go out – they feel safe. Communication is key to these to maintain their loyalty and visit frequency.
4. Defiant. Had enough or didn’t take much notice in the first place
There have always been groups who have ignored the whole crisis and continued in their own way. Increasingly now, I hear customers, who have been supportive throughout, intending to ignore both local and national regulations. They have just had enough. They will interpret the rules in their own way. If they ate out before, they will certainly be eating out now.
There is a “however”, and it’s a big however. I was in London on Tuesday, and again on Thursday, this week. There was markedly less footfall on Thursday. It felt as if all the positivity generated through August and continued through September, had been drained out of the city.
I don’t believe this change in behaviour has been driven by curfew or face masks but rather the fact, as espoused by the government, that this crisis is here to stay for the next six months. This has had a dramatic impact on how our customers see the future panning out. Now they see a real risk to jobs, their income, their ability to provide for their families, their Christmas plans and their whole security. They have lost confidence. This is the biggest single threat now to our sector.