Due to the COVID-19 crisis, this year has been unlike any other, and the impact on hotels has been unprecedented. According to AHLA figures, US hotels have lost more than $46 billion in room revenue since mid-February.
Additionally, hotels are currently on pace to lose up to $400 million in room revenue per day.
However, hope remains for hotels in states that have started to reopen, with homebound consumers looking to escape for a quick getaway or a long weekend. With that, hotels must find ways to convince guests to dine in during their stay. And hotels that have yet to re-open their restaurants need to evaluate how to do so safely.
The best way to do that?
Learn directly from consumers what they view as most important for them to consider a return to hotels and their restaurant dining. In July 2020, using a conversational, mobile messaging-based approach, Reach3 Insights engaged a Mobile Community of 1,500 American consumers in a series of studies to explore what they expect from restaurants during this time. Through robust quantitative feedback and highly emotive selfie videos submitted by research participants, we uncovered interesting insights on the underlying motivations driving the decisions of restaurant guests at this time.
An Appetite for Health and Safety Measures
The biggest theme that emerged from our study is that health concerns have trumped almost everything else. In fact, about 4 in 10 people are still uncomfortable with the idea of in-restaurant dining-but for those who are willing to go out, they are expecting safe, social distancing procedures to be in place.
Interestingly, this expectation applies whether a restaurant is a sit-down place (one where a server takes your order) or a fast casual/quick serve (where you go to the counter to place your order). Employees wearing masks and an adherence to social distancing guidelines are the most important procedures for guests at this time, regardless of the type of restaurant. Only about 1 in 4 expect temperature checks on entry, but companies should track consumer sentiment about tactics like this as the pandemic evolves.
This concern around safety measures boils down to trust. Potential guests want to know that hotels are doing everything they can to protect both employees and staff. Hotel restaurants not only need to follow government-mandated rules to avoid COVID-19 infection, but also need to find out what safety measures will give dine-in guests confidence in their establishment.
In addition to mask wearing and proper social distancing, consumers want to know that tables are being cleaned, multi-use items are being removed, and that those employees preparing and serving their food are healthy. This also applies to takeout orders or those delivered through room service, which might be a popular alternative as consumers start returning to hotels.
While certain initiatives might prove costly, overall, consumer expectations for their dining experience are not too outrageous and are mostly a continuation of protocols that have existed for the path five months.
Craving for Tried-and-True Favorites
Familiar places are on the top of the list for consumers who plan to visit restaurants. When asked about how they'd be choosing places to visit, 58% said they will be picking spots they've previously tried, while 32% indicated wanting to pick something new. This suggests that consumers will again be relying on those restaurants and brands they already trust. They know they can rely on a certain trusted brand to put their safety first and ensure that they are receiving a high-quality experience.
At least in the initial phase of your re-opening, hotels may be better off sticking to guest favorites rather than introducing something new. People are craving a sense of normalcy at this time, and they'll be looking for familiar items in your menu. For a hotel brand, this could mean downsizing their menu or focusing on only certain times of the day, such as breakfast or dinner, where they know consumers are most willing to frequent their establishment.
Given that many hotels had already introduced reduced menus or hours during the pandemic, this should not be too much of a heavy lift. If you're not sure which favorite items to keep in your menu, it's a good idea to engage your previous guests in research to see what they think. Understanding which items people are most likely to order at this time-and why-will help ensure that a reduced menu doesn't translate to guest disappointment or frustration.
From a marketing perspective, it may also be worth focusing efforts on locals who've already been to the hotel's restaurants. Given the uncertainty of the last few months, consumers want to go to places they know they can rely on for good food, service and value. People are looking to visit restaurants that they already trust to deliver the dine-in experience they've missed while sheltering in place.
Additionally, in the absence of being able to travel long distances, many consumers are having "stay-cations," which provides another marketing opportunity for brands. Hotels can offer local consumers a "locals only" deal to bring them to their restaurants or even a room/restaurant deal in order to entice people around the area who want a quarantine break without traveling far.
Also on the Menu: Contactless Technology
Like a number of other industries during the pandemic, consumers expect restaurants to adopt new technologies that can reduce the possibility of the virus spreading. Almost one in four consumers said the introduction of tech would encourage them to visit a restaurant more often, while 38 percent said it would not make a difference but would help build the reputation of the brand or restaurant. So, while contactless technology is not the biggest thing on consumers' checklists, it should be viewed as one part of the solution.
Pre-pandemic, many hotel brands had already introduced apps that offer contactless check-in and the ability to virtually interact with the concierge desk. Now, hotels of all of sizes should look to offer a way for visitors to order food for takeout or delivery to their room during their stay. Whether it be ordering over the phone or through an app, a contactless delivery system should be a requirement for hotel brands as they navigate the next wave of the pandemic.
Similarly, for hotels that do not currently have their restaurants up-and-running, they can tap into consumer's desire for contactless technology by partnering with delivery services and apps to bring food to travelers staying at their hotel. For example, in New York City, in-restaurant dining is still closed. In order to help both hotels and local restaurants, partnerships can be created to offer special deals to hotel guests through delivery apps such as UberEats or Seamless.
Additionally, hotels should consider introducing a grab-and-go concept, similar to the one that has been recently popularized by Amazon Go stores. Here, consumers can pay with the hotel's app or their room key to purchase food, drinks or other small items with minimal contact with other guests or hotel employees. This concept will help appeal to those consumers who are looking for new technologies in their dining experience and will help set the hotel brand apart as one that is forward-thinking and willing to innovate.
Keeping Up With the Evolving Tastes of Guests
We're living in unprecedented times, and consumer behaviors and expectations are changing at a pace, scale and frequency we have never seen before. While a lot of people are talking about the "New Normal," we can instead expect a series of "next normals" where consumer attitudes and sentiment will change substantially more than once as the pandemic evolves. To prepare for all these changes, hotels need to keep their pulse on consumers and adjust their plans accordingly.
There's little doubt that in the next few months, certain aspects of the hotel and dine-in experience may become more important for consumers than others, while others will become irrelevant. More than ever, hotels need to make guests feel secure-and that begins by understanding what matters to consumers and what's driving those expectations.
At this time, hotels and their affiliated restaurants should be in regular contact with their guests to gauge their comfort levels and get feedback on their recent experience with the company. Capturing robust quantitative feedback as well as rich qualitative feedback will go a long way not only in gaining valuable insights hotels can use to make better decisions, but also building genuine trust with consumers in the long-term.