David spoke to KAM Media about how the Alone Together concept came about as a result of social distancing and some of the detailed thinking behind it. We’ve taken some snippets below, but here is a link to the full article.
So do you think social distancing can actually work in casual dining and fine dining restaurants?
I think that’s the million pound question everyone is trying to grapple with and the answer is ‘it depends’ rather than a straight yes or no. The main issue is around the business model more than anything – whether the inevitably lower capacity means that the numbers can actually stack up. From all the operators I have spoken to or read about, it seems very clear that government support is needed for all restaurants if they are to get through the next 9 months.
If financial support is made available to the extent that lower capacities can be profitable, then it becomes a question of adjusting your design to deal with social distancing requirements.
Critically, this has to start by looking at your overall brand and strategy (e.g. are we convenience or experience led? What do our customers love us for? What new ways can we delight them?) before you start looking at tactics (how can we divide up tables? How do guests get to the toilets safely?) Making social distancing work will certainly be more difficult for some restaurant concepts than others.
It is important to remember that right now we are not clear exactly what the UK government will require in terms of social distancing measures and our understanding so far is based on collective interpretation of how other countries have responded along with WHO And HSE guidelines.
You and your team have been working on various design concepts to help inspire operators. Talk us through the idea of the #alonetogether concept. How did it come about?
Pretty early on it became clear that when restaurants were allowed to open again, they would do so under a cloud of new regulations that strike at the heart of what hospitality is all about. Online and in the news, people had been discussing the possible implications of social distancing and generally talking about how much of a negative impact it would have on the restaurant experience. Words like ‘impossible’ and ‘terrible’ were (and still are) being thrown around.
But rather than look at it like this, we have taken the “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” philosophy, rolled our design sleeves up and decided to try and create a beautiful solution. The simple aim being to inject a bit of inspiration back into the conversation and maybe ignite those creative juices that generally the restaurant business is so full of.
So the first important idea is to change the existing mindset around these restrictions. A great restaurant doesn’t let other health and safety requirements have a negative impact on customer experience, so why should this be any different? If approached creatively, the requirements for physical distancing could be used to reinforce a genuine sense of caring hospitality. After all, you are doing it in order to look after people.
Also, given that private dining has been increasing in popularity, the enhanced separation could be used as a way to create a more unique, special experience for guests.
What do you think will be the main concerns or considerations of customers when deciding where to dine out post-lockdown?
I think people will be craving familiarity and their regular haunts from pre-lockdown, so will gravitate towards these for both comfort and curiosity to see how different they feel with social distancing measures in place. And here is a key point – all restaurants will be making a FIRST IMPRESSION on guests again after lockdown. What impression will you leave your guests with? Will it be one where they want to come back soon or maybe wait until you are back to normal?
As a result of the above, particularly in the early days of lockdown being lifted, I imagine there might be a lower appetite for trying somewhere new.
I expect that value for money will drive some early behaviour as the uncertainty around the economic outlook means larger numbers of people clamp down on discretionary spending.
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This post was written by David Chenery