As the last year of lockdowns and restrictions has shown only to clearly, for anyone running, or working in a hospitality business, ‘working from home’ is not an option. For many other people, though, new and different working patterns may be one of the permanent changes brought about by the pandemic.
A recent survey of 50 of the UK’s biggest employers conducted by the BBC found that 43 of the businesses, employing around a million people between them, said they now expect to operate a mix of home and office working, with staff encouraged to work from home two to three days a week. That can be multiplied across the employees of many smaller businesses planning a similar approach.
Other recent reports have revealed plans to convert surplus office space in the City of London into homes, while development plans for new high-rise offices in cities such as London and Manchester are said to be on hold.
For hospitality and catering business, this increase in what sector analyst Peter Backman is calling WOO – working out of office – presents both challenges and opportunities. Any business that relies on high footfall from office locations, whether that’s a morning coffee, lunchtime sandwiches or after-work drinks, is likely to see a shortfall in trade.
For restaurants, cafés and pubs in more residential and suburban locations, there’s an opportunity to see some business benefits from this new breed of home worker. For many people who work at a screen or on a phone, their next coffee or snack opportunity away from the desk becomes very important.
Now that people are no longer effectively confined to their homes by the lockdown, the natural instinct to get out, meet people, and take that all-important screen break, will kick in. Working at local cafés, bars and restaurants, or just taking 10 minutes out of the day, will be very tempting if the offer is right.
Initially, it’s worth making sure the business is as worker friendly as possible. A robust wi-fi signal that reaches all parts of the trading area, inside and out, and strategically positioned power sockets for laptops and mobiles, will go a long way towards encouraging customers to stay longer.
When colleagues do need to meet, an underused function room can very easily double as a meeting room during the day. Flexible charging based on a minimum spend-per-head on food and drink can be more appealing, and often more lucrative than a hire charge. Again, wi-fi and power sockets will make all the difference.
It’s then a question of expanding beyond traditional lunch and dinner trading and maximising the menu opportunities:
- Breakfast: A classic fry-up is always popular, as are takeaway breakfast sandwiches, especially if the menu spotlights local produce. Porridge, fruit salad, granola and a choice of healthier food options will all appeal to people looking to set themselves up for a day at the desk.
- Hot drinks: Consider investing a premium coffee offer; the aroma alone should bring in extra trade. Speciality coffees, and a range of teas including fruit and herbal varieties, including decaf options, can generate both sit-in and takeaway business throughout the day. Use loyalty cards to encourage repeat trade.
- Shakes and smoothies: Freshly made soft drinks are a more sustainable option than bottles, and fresh fruit can be great value if operators work with produce suppliers to make the most of availability. Use a countertop blender to blend fruit juice with water or milk, including non-dairy options, to offer a choice of fresh shakes and smoothies.
- Pastries: Cakes, pastries and cookies, either freshly made or bought in, are a simple, all-day snack option, that can be matched with a hot drink as an appealing set-price offer.
- Sandwiches: A premium, deli-style offer of freshly-made sandwiches, wraps and paninis is often more appealing to home workers than a traditional sit-down lunch, and also creates opportunities for takeaway trade. A selection of cold meats, cheese, fish, salads and plant-based choices, with a choice of breads, creates a modular deli-style offer, which can also be used to promote produce from local suppliers. A special price on a deli sandwich served with a soft drink is simple to promote on the website and social media, as well as on posters and flyers.
Expanding into an all-day offer is a useful opportunity to review suppliers, and expand the range of fresh, local and seasonal food and drink on the menu. Make sure potential customers know about your daytime offer. Along with the internet and social media, an old-fashioned A-board is a useful tool, ensuring passing customers can see what’s on offer. It’s time to woo the WOO crowd.