For operators across the country, 2021 is already bringing a revival worthy of celebration. Capacity restrictions are lifting, vaccine availability is increasing, and hospitality operators are ready to celebrate by welcoming guests back to their establishments with service led by safety. While most consumers are likely eager to return to their favorite bar, restaurant, or hotel for the meals and connection they’ve so fervently desired over the last year, there will also be trepidation. Some people may return ready for a handshake or hug, while others will opt for an entirely contactless experience with as little interaction as possible – and operators now have a responsibility to meet each guest at their unique comfort level. In fact, according to a few operators, success will likely be hinged on finding that balance.
Last month, during Fintech’s panel webinar presented with the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association, four North Carolina hospitality operators discussed this new responsibility and shared how they’re approaching customer engagement and success as the industry (thankfully) moves further from the COVID-era. Together with Fintech, Erin McMullen with Durham Distillery, Sean Lilly Wilson with Fullsteam Brewery, Callie Murray with Mac’s Speed Shop, and Kelly Brown with The Cardinal Hotel talked about every facet of operating, from cocktail menu presentation and to-go offerings to technology enhancements. According to our panelists, here are the five best ways to serve each customer at their unique comfort level.
Sean Lily Wilson with Fullsteam Brewery suggested that accommodating individual comfort levels starts with simply gauging how each customer feels. It’s vital to understand that some guests will want to talk or interact with servers and bartenders, but others may still want space. Staff at Fullsteam has committed to walking their taproom every day to assess how each customer feels, then interact accordingly. While Sean understands it will be a bit of a challenge, it’s a necessary adjustment to ensure success.
Train Your Staff:
For Callie Murray and Mac’s Speed Shop, the most significant tool for adjusting service comes from proper staff training. Last year, Mac’s was joined by a Director of Training and a Director of Operations who are focusing on the hospitality experience offered at each location and ensuring that staff is trained accordingly. As restrictions lift, consistency in service will be necessary for encouraging guests to be comfortable with visiting not just once but multiple times. And their training is already paying off – Mac’s was recently tagged in a social media post from a woman who had gotten her second vaccine shot and chose Mac’s Speed Shop as her first meal out in over a year!
Maintain Human Connection:
Human connection is a vital part of hospitality, especially for hotels, and it’s perhaps one of the areas most impacted by contactless engagement, mask-wearing, and social distancing. As Kelly Brown with The Cardinal Hotel points out, life will return to some form of normal, and the transaction of service will still exist in the hospitality industry. Still, the real, genuine human connection is going to be what guests crave most. For the Cardinal Hotel, maintaining the connection comes from authenticity, like displaying pictures of the front desk staff without their mask, so each guest knows with whom they are interacting.
Offer Fan Favorites:
It’s likely that your location adjusted offerings to accommodate both customer demand and limited resources during the pandemic. Now that capacity restrictions are lifting, it’s time to decide how you’ll balance new offerings with pre-pandemic favorites. For example, at Durham Distillery, cocktail kits (which the distillery hadn’t previously offered) became a best-selling item for to-go service over the last year. As Erin detailed, the kits have allowed Durham Distillery to reach brand-new customers, so the kits will be included in tandem with their long-standing Conniption Gin cocktails in sales strategies moving forward.
Adopt Tech to Help:
After dealing with last year’s challenges, one of the most sought-after commodities in the hospitality industry is time. During our panel, all the participants agreed that technology enhancements that afford more time are instrumental in accommodating guests better. Through Fintech, for example, the panelists and retailers like them automate their alcohol invoice payments. These contactless, electronic invoice payments are not only safer for staff, but they give location-level employees more time to focus on their guests. With a technology partner like Fintech, retailers can also utilize detailed purchase and invoice data to build strategies that allow them to better meet each guest’s expectations without sacrificing their bottom line.
No matter how your team adjusts strategy to meet demand, it’s imperative to look at each customer as an individual – one that you want to welcome back with open arms (maybe even literally). Consistent service and real, authentic exchanges mixed with strategy and technology will likely yield the best results as operators plan for future success.