Why experience in hospitality will be more important in the post-COVID world

Crafting a bespoke cocktail

In our current situation, we are unable to enjoy the wonders of the 21st-century hospitality industry. From incredible concept bars to high-end restaurants and street food vendors conjuring up delectable dishes from vans, our world has been put on hold. But it is in times like this that it is important to look forwards and prepare for the post-COVID business reality.

One day soon the doors will open again, and people will come. But make no mistakes, those consumers have changed. There has never been a more worrying and stressful time for companies, families and individuals since the war times. Isolation, health scares, concerns over employment and looming global recession has now become a primary factor in rising depression, anxiety and other significant mental health issues. Your post-COVID consumers are looking for escapism, a safe place where they can relax and forget about life challenges. They are trying to escape home cooking and tinned, pre-mixed cocktails, but also looking for one thing more than anything else – experience.

The feeling of being waited on, the atmosphere as chatter bubbles around them, the excitement of having myriad dishes to choose from, instead of just being limited to what they could add to their weekly home delivery. It will be then, more than ever, that we will have to provide something unforgettable.

The lockdown effect

Going out for a drink with a friend used to just mean going to the local pub for a pint, or perhaps a bar with your girlfriends for a G&T and a catch-up. However, I’ve discussed already the growing importance that experience is having on our consumer choices, especially when it comes to the younger generations.

In 2018, Beverage Daily wrote: “Drinkers are now more drawn to experience-based locations for their alcohol consumption than typical bars with no extra incentives. Consumers said they have visited experiential locations 'more often' in the last year, rather than 'less often', with 43% trying out game-based bars, 42% at a brewery tasting room, 42% at rooftop bars, 42% at premium bars and 41% at groce-rants (a cross between grocery market and restaurant or cafe).” A trend I believe will accelerate further in the post-COVID world.

Having been kept away from bars, restaurants, pubs and cafes for so long, people have been able to buy crates of beer, bottles of spirits and their favourite non-alcoholic drinks, what they haven’t been able to purchase is that experience.

They haven’t been able to buy the feeling of a bartender custom making a cocktail right in front of you, or a chef cooking you a fresh dish with locally sourced ingredients. They haven’t been able to buy the feeling of being sat in the sun on a rooftop bar with your friends, or the feeling you get seeing a family member walk through the restaurant door and making a beeline for your table.

These feelings, these experiences, are paramount to the hospitality industry, and something that many didn’t even consider before. But now we’ve gone without, they are some of the little things consumers have missed. And they are some of the little things consumers will come back for.

Small businesses rejoice

Small London Business

Although not all of them are, it’s fair to say a lot of London (and the country’s) favourite experience bars are small business, pop-up shops or family-owned ventures. Very few are chains, and those that are, are still not large by any means.

And, as the economy has taken a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, many small businesses have unfortunately found themselves in hard situations – something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by consumers.

We are already seeing customers do whatever it is they can to support their local businesses, from buying gift cards to ordering takeaway where it’s offered, and even making future reservations, leaving positive online reviews where before they had forgotten or sharing their social pages with friends and family.

If they do all of this from their living rooms, I feel a sense of optimism that once our doors reopen, they will come and do even more from our bars. Large chain restaurants may offer cheap deals and reliable normality, however, it’s our small businesses and locally owned venues that offer a sense of community and offer experience.

It is certainly a hard time now, but I repeat, we must look forward. For those who are able to, making future plans can be a relief from the current situation. Announcing a welcome back party and drumming up interest, revamping menus or even looking at ways that you can pay back to others who have struggled during this time can all be positive steps.

Kolibri Drinks adding CBD to drink - Citrus Grove

Until we can leave our houses, there are some great products that can help bring experience to the consumer. My bespoke, non-alcoholic cocktails offer you the chance to add your own amount of CBD or sweetness, letting you tailor the drink to your unique needs.

As I look forward to the end of isolation, and life after lockdown, I’m optimistic about the future for hospitality, especially for those places that can offer experiences to the customers who are now so desperately missing them.

What do you think will happen after lockdown? I’d love to hear your thoughts about how we can move forward from this stronger than ever.

About the author:

Kamila is a bestselling author of  “Bespoke. How to radically grow your bar and restaurant business through personalisation”, and passionate trend-spotter for the UK Eating Out market with thousands of followers on her widely popular blog kamilasitwell.co.uk.

With a decade of hands-on experience collaborating with hospitality influencers and insight experts and background in setting strategies for leading brands, Kamila has become the industry champion for truly bespoke and guest-centric experiences.

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