Londoners’ return to pubs, bars and restaurants

Using Instagram to view restaurant menus, table service at the pub and only paying via contactless – these are all small changes that the public appreciated in the face of wining and dining during a pandemic. Over the last two weeks, our video insight team has been busy researching, understanding and portraying the public’s response to the reopening of the hospitality industry. We produced vox pops (intercept interviews) filmed in central London as well as video diaries kept by millennials recording their experiences of the first weekend the pubs opened.

Scroll down for our top findings and engaging video edits on the changing ways that people are serving, eating, drinking and spending.

1. Safety – changes to hospitality spaces and processes

Safety was a primary concern for most of the people we spoke to. Even if some weren’t very worried about catching the virus themselves – they were keen to see that establishments were taking proper precautions to stop any potential spread. Many were impressed by the safety measures and experiences they’d had in a pub, bar or restaurant within the last couple of weeks.

Some examples of new practices in place that a number of respondents reported as reassuring were:

  • Table service at pubs
  • Compulsory seating and no standing allowed
  • Socially distanced ordering at bars
  • Capacity limitation on the door
  • Visible PPE on serving staff (masks and visors)
  • Clean and clear spaces
  • Visibly regular and thorough table cleaning

“It’s these sorts of things that we need to follow, whether we sort of think they’re tedious or not, it’s obviously for the greater benefit of getting things back on track and making sure we don’t get ill again.”

Restaurant worker

2. Apps and technology in hospitality

New and pre-existing apps and technology have really taken to the stage to help many of us through the pandemic and lockdown and it’s no doubt that even more great tech will come into play to aid us back to a new normal. Many people we spoke to talked about apps becoming a welcome part of the process in the hospitality industry. The main app usages reported were:

  • Instagram menus. Instead of handling a physical menu which has been touched by other people throughout the day, customers could view the menu on their phone while seated at the establishment before making their order.
  • Ordering and payment apps. These apps seemed mainly reported in pubs and bars and were optional to use. Some respondents used them, others didn’t but liked that they had the option to do so. It was possible to view the whole menu, see what was in stock and what wasn’t, select your choices and pay all through the app – while sitting at your table. Drinks and food were then brought over via table service.
“It’s just better to order at your table anyway, and I think people my age don’t really use the bar as a social thing” University student

Many people reported liking the ease of use and reduction of contact points (eg. not having to go to pay at the bar and risk touching it or touching the card reader). Others who did pay at the bar felt that the app had significantly reduced traffic in the socially-distanced queuing in place. And others felt that this quick and easy process was here to stay for the long run and would help improve general processes and waiting times in pubs and bars.

However, a couple of respondents were concerned about the new apps. One reported that he was worried that automation would take away from pub culture and the social and atmospheric aspects associated with ordering and drinking at the bar. An ex-hospitality worker voiced concern that payment apps would affect direct tipping for waiting staff- a substantial part of the work and payment for bar and restaurant staff.

3. Conscientious choice

It was evident that the economic impact is having a greater effect on some people’s choices on where they are eating and drinking out. While a fair few respondents were letting their sheer excitement guide them to make bookings and going into pubs – others were taking a more calculated approach. Some people spoke about making a point of supporting their “local”, others who were in the hospitality industry talked about going to establishments where friends worked. From restaurants to coffee shops and pubs – it seems that there’s a percentage of consumers who are being more conscientious with their choices to support local and independent businesses.

4. Initial disparity between city and countryside pubs

We captured the first week of people returning to pubs and bars via video diaries. The millennials keeping these gave an honest show and tell of their experiences via video – which portrayed some difference between those in certain parts of London and others in the countryside. Sipping on an espresso martini, one of our diarists and her friend who were visiting bars in Clapham, London talk about hardly any social distancing being in place. Though, they were happy to be somewhere with a buzzy atmosphere and acknowledged being in the bar at their own risk. Meanwhile, other respondents showed bigger country pubs where bookings before entry must be made and strict social distancing was in place. Crowded and busy experiences were a far cry from the space and strict measures in place at these establishments.

However, when our team took to Soho only a week later to capture intercept vox pops of people visiting pubs and bars it seemed that this previously busy drinking spot had been subdued. The week before, photographs of a dangerously busy Soho had been circulating, but we didn’t find that. The usual footfall was down by at least half. Most people were keen to make it on time for dinner bookings and pubs and bars seemed to be handling their customers well. Seating only was permitted inside and customers standing outside with drinks were well spaced out with drinkers behaving responsibly. Perhaps establishments had taken stricter measures to control crowds outside, or perhaps Londoners had let off any built-up steam in the first weekend of reopening?

5. Spending

We spoke to many people in London about finances and spending. Although everyone we spoke to was out to wine or dine, the vast majority reported this as a one-off occasion or something that they wouldn’t be partaking in as regularly as they would pre-lockdown. People talked about going to pubs, bars or restaurants as a treat or a novelty after the previous three months. A few said the lockdown had opened up the joys of drinking in parks with friends instead of heading straight for the cocktail bar.

Around spending in general – an overwhelming amount of the interviewees expressed caution – despite their widely differing circumstances. Some people had lost their jobs, some had been furloughed, others were still fully employed. But the following trends were mentioned by many of the respondents:

  1. A reduced need to spend. The lockdown created a period of less spending for the vast majority of people. Many felt they had realised that they needn’t buy as much as they used to – and many took this to be a positive lesson. Others thought that as the world was opening up more, their old spending habits would simply resume (be that on clothes, gadgets, cocktails etc).
  2. A deeper look into personal finances. The lockdown seemed to create a period of reflection for many people. A fair few reported using their online banking apps more often, tracked spending, budgeted and paid more attention to saving than they had before the lockdown. Many hoped that they could take these new habits forward as the lockdown resides.

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