What are we going to see in our dining establishments once we are out of lockdown? Well I don't have a crystal ball but I think we might see smaller, very seasonal menus replacing large and lengthy menus. It will be necessary for restaurants to purchase supplies cautiously, in order to adapt not only to the financial restraints caused by the long lockdown but also price changes and availabilty caused by Brexit. Smaller menus will help. Perhaps there will also be a focus on food origins, moving away from Europe to a more global table. Customers who are itching to travel will be looking to spice up their dining experience. Middle Eastern, North African, Moroccan, Sri Lankan, Caribbean, African/American and other world cusines have all been popular in lockdown. Having a holistic approach to culture and food heritage would bode well with customers, many of whose habits and preferences will have changed and many will have become accustomed to cooking superb meals at home. The digital customer experience will also be critical to retaining current customers and enticing in new clientele. Instead of simply reverting to business as usual, seize the opportunity to innovate. The actions that you take now will go a long way in preserving the future of your business.
What a delight this week to virtually meet up and chat with hospitality students currently studying at West Suffolk College. I've been lucky to have had a very varied and interesting career and loved every minute of it. It was fun to tell some stories of the entertaining encounters that I have had during my career,and hopefully it has inspired students to look at the wider aspects of the industry. But best of all it's good to see that the industry will be in such capable hands in the years ahead.
Rather than focusing on a post COVID world, businesses need to think of COVID as a chronic condition and learn to live and work with it.
Once the lockdowns are lifted we are likely to see an explosion of the experience economy as people are desperate to share experiences with their friends and family. Visitor Attractions are well placed to tap into this, especially whilst international travel is difficult. This could be the year of the staycation. Domestic tourism will rule with outdoor attractions and rural locations benefiting. But remember - sanitise your site and not the visitor experience.
Apply for a free UK-wide industry standard and consumer mark to reassure your customers that your business adheres to Government and public health guidance.
To support you as you work towards re-opening and welcoming customers, VisitEngland has launched the 'We’re Good To Go’ COVID-19 industry standard and consumer mark. Ir is available to provide a ‘ring of confidence’ for businesses, attractions and destinations as well as reassurance to local residents and visitors that clear processes are in place and that as a business you are good to go.
If your business operates in England and you have read and implemented the Government’s COVID-19 reopening guidance, understand the guidance from Public Health England and have a COVID-19 Risk Assessment in place, you can apply for the industry standard mark by simply completing a self-assessment through the online platform. This includes a checklist confirming you have put the necessary processes in place. You will then receive a certification and the ‘We’re Good To Go’ mark to display on your premises and online.
Customers who feel that they have an emotional link to a brand or a business become loyal advocates, making repeat visits, repeat purchases and recommend to friends and family.
Thoughtfulness considers the intangible aspects of the customer experience and cannot be measure easily. It is the emotional factor that links customers to a brand. Build trusting, thoughtful relationships with your visitors and guests. Customers need to be acknowledged and understood and their feelings taken seriously. Customer centric mindsets must expand though to all employees who should always feel valued and inspired. Just a thought.
Christmas poses a chance to give something back. Why not sponsor a local charitable cause or event?
Not only is this a genuinely enjoyable and satisfying thing to do, but it will also show your customers that you're a business that has positive values.
There has never been a better time for English wine. 2018 proved to be one of the best vintages on record with much of it already released for drinking. Wineries continue to open up around the UK, many of which are moving away from sparkling wine production and into the creation of high quality and innovative still wines from varieties not generally seen before planted in UK soils. Many offer tours and tastings and include a food offering as part of a visit. If you run a food business with a wine offering then don't overlook the opportunity to showcase an English wine.
A visit to the cafe, restaurant or food outlet within a visitor attraction should no longer be seen as an add-on at the end of the visit, but it is expected as part of the whole experience.
My presentation at the VisitEngland Assessors Conference last month provided ideas to help raise the standards and quality of food and drink at visitor attractions. Topics up for discussion were:
* Food and catering plays an essential part in creating a seamless customer journey at attractions.
* Catering is a great business with healthy margins and has the capacity for creating a distinctive product.
* A great Café or Restaurant can increase footfall and visitor numbers and become an attraction in itself.
* Quality food and drink if done well can rival the best of exhibitions.
* Food and drink outlets are an important secondary spending stream.
But as always looking at current food trends created the most lively of discussions.
Diners are not turning up for their bookings and for whatever reason guests think it is ok to 'no show'. It's becoming such a problem that it is having an enormous financial impact on restaurant businesses. Of course it is a lack of courtesy on the customers part to not 'phone and cancel a booking or inform a restaurant that they can't make it. But can restaurateurs help themsleves improve this situation?
Working with accommodation providers who faced similar problems here are some of the suggestions that I know worked, especially with the online bookers who were the worst offenders.
* Set out your booking and cancellation policy - an official policy can't be disputed.
* Include - how far in advance a cancellation is required, how long a table will be held for in the event of a no-show, whether you'll charge customers for not turning up if they haven't cancelled their booking.
* Consider taking a small deposit at the time of booking - perhaps the amount you would consider charging for a no show. Diners tend to be more likely to show if they have money at stake.
* Engage with customers as soon as a booking is made - send menu's, a wine list, double check dietary requirements. Send a text or email to confirm the booking, reminding your customers who may have forgotten where they've booked. Include a phone number and address as well as the time of the reservation.
* The day before, engage again, make a phone call, text or email to remind customers of their booking, providing the customer with a good impression of your customer service.
* Make it easy to cancel the booking - this will at least give you more time to fill an empty table.
We should be proud of our food and drink heritage in Suffolk. It is one of the finest places to eat in the country. So it was no mean feat to judge the Best Restaurant Category for publisher's Archant, the promoters of the awards. Armed with score sheets and an insatiable appetite to sample multiple courses and many meals, the very worthy winner was The Unruly Pig at Bromeswell. Runners up were The Bildeston Crown, 1921 and Tuddenham Mill. All areas of the businesses were scrutinised in the judging process, including pre-arrival booking processes, the welcome, menu knowledge, wine service, cleanliness as well as the quality and presentation of the food. Pictured above are head Chef Dave Wall and owner Brendan Padfield from The Unruly Pig.
I have just put together a four week practical course for a client which will show the versatility of popular culinary herbs. Sessions will be 3 hrs long and include a dish to cook and take home and recipe sheets. This is based on a course I taught a few years ago at West Suffolk College. I have always been fascinated by herbs and their many uses and have developed recipes for all of these popular and easy to obtain herbs.
Week 1 - Basil, thyme and chives.
Week 2 - Parsley, tarragon and bay.
Week 3 - Coriander, sage and oregano
Week 4 - Mint, rosemary and dill.
Get in touch if you would like a short cookery course created or delivered for you.
In Case You Missed It - social media is not just a way to communicate with your friends but necessary to target and market directly to those you want to reach. Top platforms are Facebook (the place to go to chat and be friendly, keep the tone light and informal), Twitter (interactive dialogue and communication, nurture, engage and build your following, retweet and answer questions when possible), Instagram (creative and collaborative with the chance to create stories and expand your reach using hashtags), Pinterest (female centric and image based, develop your own personality with eye catching, unique pinboards, great for recipe boards) and YouTube (create useful and instructive 'how to' videos as well as capturing attention), Google owns YouTube so is routinely ranked highly on Google search page. So what are you waiting for?
We had an a really interesting debate about foraging last weekend at the Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival. I was invited to sit on the panel for a Food Writers Question Time where the conversation got very lively. I loved the question from the student in the audience who wanted to know how to prepare a pigeon captured in the garden of his student accommodation.
Cafes and Restaurants don't just sell food and drink they provide a sense of belonging and recognition. Customer service is as equally important as the food. Friendly staff make happy staff. Well trained staff make customers happy. My top tips for excellent customer service are.
It's always good to get published in a cookbook! I have lots of local food knowledge and contacts in the food world if you need recommendations