Rollback to pre-pandemic and hygiene probably didn’t weigh heavily on your mind as an operator. It was more about experience and ambiance. Fast forward to 2021 and despite the initial flurry of high-visibility Covid measures hastily implemented in many venues, most operators have started to shift their focus to more ‘exciting’ things- whilst keeping standards high, of course! 

But this month we finished a project at KAM, in partnership with Food Alert, looking at how people’s attitudes have changed since COVID-19 when deciding where to go out for a drink or meal or order food for delivery. And guess what is still very much firmly on our customers’ minds? Yep, hygiene and also- food safety. You can download the full whitepaper here

Hygiene catapults up customer decision drivers

Nearly 2 in 3 consumers agree that hygiene standards have become MORE important to them when visiting a hospitality venue since COVID-19 hit. This is consistent across all age groups and gender demographics.

Never before have we known hygiene to be so prominent in the British consumer’s mindset as it has been over the last 18+ months. What was previously something most hospitality customers were only aware of when they had a particularly bad experience has been catapulted to the forefront of their minds. It seems to have moved from our subconscious to our conscious when we make decisions about which venues to choose, whether we have a positive experience and of course whether we return.

“Cleanliness & hygiene has moved from our subconscious to our conscious when we make decisions about which venues to choose.”

The research, which we carried out in partnership with Food Alert, found that there is now no room for error and that customers are incredibly unforgiving when standards fall; 1-in-2 said that if a venue falls short of their hygiene expectations just once then they will never return. To be crystal clear, that means you’ve got one strike and then you’re out, for good.

One strike and you’re out

Whilst we have seen numerous venues attempting to reassure customers and adhere to government guidelines during the height of the pandemic, it’s interesting to see the measures that most customers would like to see as permanent features in venues going forward. We are seeing some of the more ‘extreme’ measures, such as temperature checks and Perspex screen dividers, masks and one-way systems will slowly be removed (assuming guidelines don’t change again of course.) The main reason is the disruption they have on the ‘normal’ consumer experience in venue. We want to feel safe, and we absolutely want to feel like a venue is ‘on top’ of hygiene standards, but we don’t want it to be detrimental to the overall experience.

The research found that two measures which customers would like to remain long-term are hand sanitising stations (69%) and adequate spacing of tables (63%). Measures that don’t dilute the customer experience but just give enough reassurance that their health and well-being has been considered and is important to the venue. This is, ultimately, what the customer is looking for.

Get the fundamentals right

Eating and drinking out is a sensory experience. However, the holistic experience for a consumer can only be realised if it’s underpinned by delivering on the core factors that are critical to consumer satisfaction. When visiting a hospitality venue, these core factors are now quality of food, price, and cleanliness standards. ‘Instagram-ability’, good music and good vibes will only lead to a monument of hospitality perfection if the fundamentals and foundations are properly looked after and maintained.

These foundations are built on delivering consistency when it comes to the cleanliness of tableware, tables, and food safety hygiene- and remember customer perception is as important as the reality here. Let’s not forget those all-important outside areas- which are essentially any venue’s ‘shop window’. It’s clear that, without delivering on basic hygiene, venues will struggle to achieve the optimal customer experience. Worst case, you’ll lose them forever.

Food hygiene ratings are now critical

It comes as no surprise then that food hygiene ratings (FHR) are now also an all-important decision maker – or breaker – for customers and getting the scores on the door can be the difference between business success or failure. Interestingly, though again perhaps not surprisingly, food hygiene ratings are of even higher importance to customers when ordering food for delivery.

This heightened awareness of health and hygiene, in general, has been more prominent in older generations during the pandemic. But when it comes to checking ‘food hygiene ratings’ in particular, it’s Generation Z and younger Millennials who are more actively ‘ratings aware’. Venues should be using positive Food Hygiene Rating scores as a footfall driving mechanism for these savvy consumers. When ordering online, from Deliveroo and Just Eat, for example, the food hygiene rating was more likely to be used as a sorting factor for venues above the range of food and drink, delivery times and images of the food.

Communication and perception now becomes important

Astute operators should be looking at this and thinking about how they can use their high-ranking hygiene standards in a positive way to separate them from their competitors and influence the valuable 18-34-year-old market. Of course, quality food and drink, great service and a wonderful atmosphere will always be important, but it’s interesting to see the value that this generation place on hygiene and of course ratings of many kinds.

Driven by Generation Z, more and more consumers are looking for transparency from both brands and operators within all channels, and hospitality is no exception. In fact, when it comes to food and drink preparation and consumption the expectations around transparency are often heightened. And trust is a big part of the relationship that customers have with hospitality venues. Trust in the consistency of food quality, trust in the consistency of service delivery from staff and trust in the consistency of hygiene standards.

No, hygiene isn’t a particularly sexy topic, but ignore it at your peril. You can consider this your ‘one-strike and you’re out’ wake-up call!

Download the full whitepaper here and sign up to receive regular consumer trends here.