Partner Phil Moran says the leisure and hospitality sector has been amongst the hardest hit by the pandemic as many thousands of restaurants, pubs, hotels, cafes and tourist attractions were forced to close and remain at a stand-still for months.

As lockdown restrictions began to ease it became apparent that the pandemic had significantly changed consumer behaviours, and brands operating in the leisure and hospitality sector have needed to adapt quickly in order to survive and to remain competitive. 

Most obviously, health and safety considerations, and nervousness by many about face-to-face socialising, have resulted to changes to operating models and companies have incorporated sanitising stations and partitions between seating, and re-designed table layouts in response to these concerns.

As disruption caused by the pandemic has continued, hospitality companies have also needed to adapt to diners wanting to stay at home more. During lockdown, dining in became the new dining out and takeaway sales more than doubled across the sector as a whole. This growth in demand for home dining resulted in many more restaurants making use of ‘dark kitchens’ to increase their deliveries, and these have now become longer-term features for a significant number of operators within the sector. Operators have needed to carefully consider how this impacts on their businesses, and the choice of suitable and appropriate partners for delivery sales has been critical in order to avoid any potential dilution in brand standards.

Connected to this, the adoption of new technologies which was already being seen in the sector pre-pandemic has been accelerated hugely, as digital services which had previously been considered as add-ons are now standard requirements in many venues. For example, more pubs and restaurants have embraced app-based ordering and payments and hotels have adopted apps that allow guests to check-in or order room service. These changes have helped to streamline the customer experience but have also required a significant financial outlay for operators, at a time when spare funds have not been easy to come by.

Continuing this theme, the need for operators to maximise alternative revenue streams during lock-down also saw the significant re-development of outdoor spaces undertaken by pub, bar and restaurant companies in response to the disruption to existing trading formats. Initially this was done as a way of generating greater revenues from those areas whilst indoor trade was restricted, but the design of outside areas, and their importance to the overall operation, has become a longer-term feature, particularly as licensing rules regulating these spaces have become more favourable during the pandemic.

Finally, hospitality businesses have also had to keep on top of changes in consumer trends led by a younger generation that is ever more concerned with the sustainability and localism of products, and that is generally consuming less alcohol. Offering farm-to-table dining, as well as no-alcohol alternatives are becoming key offerings of many leisure venues and again this has had a material operational impact for hospitality companies, who have needed to consider their existing supply relationships and also their menu offerings.  

The leisure and hospitality sector has shown tremendous strength and resilience during a time of extreme uncertainty and economic turbulence. Eating and drinking with friends and family is a vital part of our social fabric and with doors having now re-opened it is fantastic to see our bars, restaurants and pubs full once again. Having navigated the unprecedented challenges of the past two years, the hope looking forward is that businesses are well positioned to take advantage of the changes which have been put in place during the pandemic to drive the continued growth of the sector as it continues to evolve.

First published by insider media. 

Date published

12 April 2022


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