“Footfall down but spend up” – that’s the conclusion drawn by the Regency Purchasing Group following its first full weekend of sites being reopen again.
The organisation, which operates a number of leisure and hospitality businesses, including The Grand Pier and The Old Thatched Cottage in Weston-super-Mare, said ‘Super Saturday’ brought a number of observations.
Managing director, Alex Demetriou, said: “The Grand Pier was significantly down on footfall on Saturday against the same day last year, although a proportion of this will also be weather related, as the weather was better on the same day last year.
“Very interestingly, however, customers who did visit spent more. Based on spend per head on Saturday versus the same day last year, food and beverage purchases were up by almost a third (32%), while retail purchases were also up by more than a quarter (26%). However, it was spend on rides where we saw the biggest increase, with visitors spending an additional 48%.”
Mr Demetriou said feedback suggested the higher level of spend could be because customers are not keen to visit multiple sites.
“While leisure businesses may see significantly less visitors, early indications suggest that of those that do visit, they are willing to spend more,” he added.
It wasn’t just The Grand Pier that saw a reduction in visitors this weekend – one of the Group’s restaurants, The Old Thatched Cottage also welcomed fewer guests.
However, Mr Demetriou said this could become the new norm as people avoid the typically busiest times in favour of mid-week dining out.
“At The Old Thatched Cottage, we saw a capacity reduction of 35%. Whilst the weekend was steady, it has always been the case that the real acid test is Monday to Thursday. The hope is that people will spread their visits to the quieter times of the week to even out the loss of capacity on a Saturday night and Sunday lunch, when we’d ordinarily be full.
“With bringing back chefs, bar supervisors and a restaurant manager, the staffing costs remain very similar, so without an uplift on the quieter days, it is difficult to see how businesses will survive medium term.
“That said, the reports I’ve received from Regency members is that the quieter weekend allowed them to establish new technology, such as table ordering apps, which we’ll see more of as businesses innovate and adapt.”
Mr Demetriou also believes customers will be seeking venues where they feel the operator considers their safety a top priority but acknowledges there is a balance between safety and satisfaction.
“We have seen varying operating standards in the hospitality industry, from one restaurant putting up two posters and having a hand sanitiser station upon entry, to another who has a full walk through temperature check for every customer to go through before entry. Both measures were signed off by the same local authority environmental health officer.
“Therefore, with no minimum requirement for venues to be measured against, it means that customers will make their own minds up as to where they feel most safe and where they choose to dine again. Interestingly, the restaurant monitoring customer temperature turned away seven customers this weekend, which resulted in the loss of five tables that were booked. Most customers who were turned away understood, but one took it particularly badly and caused a scene.
“There is a very thin line between customer safety and customer satisfaction. Everything seems to be a very tight balancing act at the moment that operators will need to continue to learn from and adapt to as we navigate through the coming days and weeks.
“We also received feedback from customers that they were quite apprehensive about dining out or visiting an attraction, but having seen the measures we had put in place across our businesses, it helped them to enjoy their experience more.
“On reflection, while the first weekend may not have elicited bumper sales for all, I think it should be seen as a success. We at Regency operate and work with hundreds of businesses that opened and implemented very detailed and comprehensive measures to ensure customer safety and they were managed very well, even at the detriment of takings. I believe this is what the majority of the industry did, but it’s a shame there was very little coverage of the great work the industry did.”