Ahead of speaking at The Caterer's Recovery Summit, the chief operations officer of the Apartment Group talks to Caroline Baldwin about how hospitality will have to adjust to a new normal as reopening approaches.
How have you adapted your business during the pandemic?
We've had to come up with alternative opportunities to maximise the little revenues that were available to us. When people were allowed to socialise outside, we made the most of our huge carpark, because we didn't have beer gardens. We also created Beach Box – an amazing man-made beach in the centre of Newcastle – and that was a huge success.
And you have been hosting weddings too?
We held one wedding at our Newton Hall property where we opened up our pub to do 15 portions of takeaway fish and chips to take down to the beach with blankets after the ceremony – it was quite cosy.
For other weddings we sent boxes to guests at home, including favours, a typed menu and food in takeaway portions. People got dressed up at home and Zoomed into the wedding. To be honest, it probably cost us more to put it on, but we wanted to help and work with our brides as much as we could and be a little creative, Now everyone is doing takeaway options at home. They've done phenomenally well – it's become more of the norm.
We wanted to help and work with our brides as much as we could and be a little creative
How can you make guests feel special at a distance?
It's important to make sure that everything is perfect for your customer, but also for your team. You need to make sure everything they need is as swift as what you've got for customers.
In hospitality we took shaking people's hands and hugging for granted. We have to keep physical distancing in place to protect everyone, but we have to connect with our customers in a different way. Communication is key, as is offering more in-room services, so what they want is there for them on arrival and they don't have to request it, such as a welcome hamper or an ice bucket.
With the benefit of hindsight, what would you do differently?
I had branded material masks made for everyone across the group. I wouldn't do those again – they were expensive, they got lost and the staff had to wash them, and then the government guidelines came out saying the cotton ones weren't the best ones to use.
What is your biggest lesson from the last 12 months?
This pandemic has fundamentally changed the customer experience. It's about understanding that the customer's mindset has changed and responding and adapting to those changes in behaviours – for instance, more people have a dog now than ever before, so you need to have some dog-friendly bedrooms if you want to drive more business.
What is your number one priority for reopening?
As operators, we've got to think about how you offer the new norm – it's about thinking outside the box.
The recovery process will be challenging and we need to work closely so we don't have another outbreak. But I don't think there are enough guidelines out there. The Recovery Summit is a great opportunity to share and talk about this and to help other operators out there who are just relying on updates to guidelines on websites.
Join The Caterer's virtual Recovery Summit on 30 March to hear from Dhugga alongside Tommy Banks, chef-director of the Black Swan, Dishoom's managing director Brian Trollip and many more.
For the full agenda and to reserve your free place, click here.
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