Now that discussions are turning towards our gradual release from lockdown, where does that leave the hospitality business?
Most people seem to accept that pubs, bars and restaurants will be among the last businesses to open, which is worrying enough in itself when you consider the mounting bills with no money coming in. But my real fear is what that opening will look like when it does come. Will they still be places we want to return to?
People often make the mistake of thinking restaurants and bars are just in the food and drink business. Sure, they serve food and drink, but that is not their core role. We don’t go out to eat because we need food. No one ever walked into a bar because they were dangerous dehydrated.
No. We go out to be entertained. The hospitality business is as much in the entertainment business as the food business.
Think back to your favourite restaurant. How important was the food to why you liked it? Chefs might like to think it is the be-all-and-end-all, but I think it’s closer to, what, 30 per cent? It’s all those other things – the welcome, the lighting, the music, the buzz, the way it makes you feel: in other words, the atmosphere.
Now imagine your favourite restaurant with every other table removed, waiters in masks, markings on the floor to keep you 2m away from others, a queueing system to go to the loo, a nervousness among fellow diners. And ask yourself, how much fun does that sound?
That’s going to be the real challenge. It’s not about how to get businesses open again, it’s about how to convey a sense of excitement once they are open so people will want to return.