Plans are already being put in place to ensure that hospitality businesses continue to operate as smoothly as possible during the busy Olympic period. But with 11.8 million expected visitors, will even the best plans be enough? Elly Earls reports
Some 12 million people are set to flood to the games during the 29 days of the 2012 Olympics, leading to 20 million extra tube journeys in London alone and countless road closures and restrictions across the country. Not only will hospitality venues be hard-pushed to arrange on-time deliveries in the midst of this logistical chaos, staff members will be facing difficulties getting to work and even regular restaurant goers are unlikely to want to brave gridlocked roads and crowded public transport routes for the sake of too many meals out.
"One of the great unresolved questions is: are we going to be busy or not?" says Martin Couchman, deputy chief executive of the British Hospitality Association. With 40,000 of the 100,000 available hotel rooms in the capital having already been allocated to the London 2012 Organising Committee (LOCOG), it's largely accepted that the majority of hotel rooms will be occupied. However, it's less certain how restaurants will fare during the Olympic period.
For Richard Shepherd, owner of London-based Langan's Restaurants, the biggest worry is customers not turning up at all. "London will be gridlocked and I think restaurants will catch a cold," he remarks. "I can't see how anyone who has been at the stadium all day will want to go home, get changed and then try to get around London to go to a restaurant. At the back of my mind, I'm certainly thinking about closing and giving annual holiday."
VisitEngland's operations and engagement manager Pam Foden agrees that there is a danger of regular punters dropping off the radar during the Olympic period. "Venues need to be creative with their marketing to avoid that," she advises. "If they see that bookings are looking weak for that period, they need to counter that with additional promotional offers. Many London hotels are not geared up for all of their guests to eat in so they could do special deals to drive business to nearby restaurants."
Busy or not, there are some Olympic-inflicted operational challenges that hospitality venues will be unable to avoid, so it's essential that proprietors make effective use of the resources that are out there to help them through this time. "I hope that venues in the affected areas are wising up to the information that is available," Couchman emphasises. Transport for London (TfL), for example, is already providing detailed information on road closures as well as offering free assistance from a dedicated 2012 travel advisor for businesses with over 200 staff located at one site.
The capital's public transport information service is also advising hotels and restaurants to follow a few simple steps to reduce their need to travel such as staggering start and finish times, stocking up on non-perishable items well before the games, arranging earlier or later deliveries, managing annual leave and encouraging staff to cycle or walk to work.
Venues outside the capital should also pay heed to the advice being offered to London-based businesses, as they will be facing similar challenges. "Everyone is likely to converge on the outlets within a short time frame so the management of rotas and speed of delivery is essential. Delays to meeting customers' requirements will not be acceptable," says Peter Wardley, general manager of the Radisson Edwardian in Guildford.
"Bar stocks will also be increased with dry goods to minimise the transport required during the busy period."
For Foden, the Olympic Games shouldn't be treated any differently to any other peak period. "Yes, it's a massive logistics exercise, but any operation worth its salt will have very good procedures in place to cope," she remarks.
Debrah Dhugga, general manager of Dukes hotel in London, which has been exclusively reserved by Olympic-related guests for the duration of the games, agrees. "We've spoken to all our suppliers who have confirmed that it's business as usual. They will, of course, alert us to any issues that arise," she says.
During a time when getting into work will be one of the main challenges for staff, Foden feels it's essential to ensure that everyone is feeling ultra-motivated. "People pay premium prices during these periods so they're expecting exceptional service and it's much easier to motivate staff when you have high-spending guests," she notes. "If you're in the hospitality business, you generally enjoy that buzz."
Businesses that rely on casual staff may run into trouble in this area, but there are several strategies they can employ to avoid problems.
"Instead of bringing in freelancers, venues could capitalise on the loyalty of their core staff and pull in their friends and family," Foden suggests. "It's more likely they'll work hard and follow the ethos of the organisation."
Upskilling staff is another option, and one which is being employed at the Hoxton Hotel in Shoreditch. "We're being very creative when it comes to training, allowing staff to gain additional skills during this period," says operations manager Timothy Griffin.
Although the Olympics will unquestionably be a testing time for hospitality businesses across the country, it also presents a great opportunity for hotels and restaurants to showcase their facilities to the world.
"Everyone is there to enjoy themselves and celebrate; it's an exciting time," Foden concludes. "It's a challenge, but there's also great potential for repeat business if customers enjoy their experience."
Tips on overcoming operational challenges
Work as a team
Operators should be looking back at previous busy times and asking ‘What went wrong?' Teamwork is crucial as every member of staff will know where their potential pinch points are
Make sure you engage with organisations like Transport for London (TfL) as well as working closely with suppliers to make certain there aren't any nasty surprises when it comes to deliveries or staff absences
Restaurants could benefit from adapting their offers to fit in with nearby Olympic events. Think about, for example, opening for breakfast or opening up during the weekends.
Keep your staff motivated
This will prevent absenteeism and ensure high-paying guests are ultra-satisfied with their experience
Whether it's introducing an Olympic-themed menu or teaming up with another local business, creative marketing tactics will help drive customers to your venue
Make an appearance at the shows or exhibitions that are related to the Olympic event located nearest to your business. This could be a great way to pick up corporate hospitality bookings.
london's logistical challenges Wiltons, London
Located in the centre of London, in St James, there's no escape from the inevitable road restrictions for fine-dining restaurant Wiltons.
"Logistically, it's going to be chaos," says head chef Andrew Turner, who began liaising with his suppliers four months ago to strategise for the busy Olympic period.
"We're going to be running a night shift and I'll be co-ordinating with suppliers to have deliveries from 10.30pm onwards so there is every possibility of having every one of my supply lines coming in without disruption. We are planning to be so organised that if the road closures are an issue, we will still be fully operational, fully briefed and fully capable of running our restaurant without there being any impact on our customers."
Turner also plans to adjust the restaurant's operating hours to ensure that all staff members are able to make it into work.
"Everyone will be on the floor for those three weeks," he says. "And we're even opening up during the weekends, something we've never done. We'll then extend the Christmas 2012 holidays by three days, giving staff a really big bonus for having worked that busy summer."