As hospitality brand owners, specialists, and enthusiasts, it would be irresponsible of us not to acknowledge the unfathomable shifts that the space we call home has taken in the last (let’s not count them) months. PIVOT doesn’t even begin to cover the risks, shifts, and traumas experienced by the industry over the course of the pandemic. A new era of hospitality leadership has emerged, riding on innovation and desperation alike – with the goal to simply CARRY ON at all costs.
But, this isn’t an article about the painful bits. Nor does it seek to ignore their reality. It’s an article about possibility, in spite of them all. A beacon of what’s next, in an unpredictable landscape.
COVID mandates pushed a market built by human interaction toward highly digitized, less personal operations. Many of these trends, like iPad ordering systems and QR menus were already beginning to make their way through the industry – and long before they were mandated they weren’t doing the customer experience any favours.
Customer experience is a funny expression these days, though, isn’t it? Especially as it pertains to food, beverage, and travel. At this point, we’re all thrilled to just be back inside a restaurant, and feeling lucky if we can manage to book a flight. For the most part, the frantic pivot has slowed to a manageable or at least predictable pace, but whatever frills of service had been stripped away in the initial shock continue to leave holes in the ways customers interact with hospitality businesses… and people don’t even notice. Yet.
As frequent winers-and-diners, the added steps of service to account for proof of vaccination, contact tracing, and in-depth sanitization methods have become second nature to us. The majority of places we’ve visited are doing what’s required of them to follow guidelines and stay afloat. We commend and support their every effort. And, we can’t help but start thinking about what elements of this new normal can be reimagined to serve the best interest of owners and consumers alike.
We believe what’s become commonplace is not destined to remain clunky.
Looking ahead, which of these protocols and particulars should stay and — in a post-pandemic world — which should we leave behind? Where will all of this land us, in optimizing efficiency, safety, and still offering guests something tangible to remember us by?
Diving into a few trends we’ve seen – and I hesitate to call them “trends” because I don’t know that they fit the true definition – there are some precarious practices that are poised to negatively impact customer experience BUT/AND also present ample opportunity to innovate.
Take contract tracing, for example. This at-the-door greeting requires a guest to check-in – which, pandemic aside, is actually a fantastic way to collect data about your customers. Getting to know more about them and engaging them in a unique, brand-specific way, allows you to build personal connections from the moment they step in the door. Maybe, in the after-times, we’ll keep asking people if they’ve travelled lately, simply because we’d like to know.
Now, you probably know we couldn’t get through this piece without a bit of spice. We have an ISSUE with the way online menus are being presented right now.
Tell me, if you’ve visited a restaurant lately and endured the whole online-menu-rigamarole, when have you seen one actually done in an engaging, enjoyable way? If you haven’t been out lately, we’ll tell you: it’s basically never. They’re all impossible-to-navigate PDFs with tiny (or comically large) fonts, and daunting, lengthy lists, with unresponsive EVERYTHING. Let’s stop referring to them as online menus and start calling them MISSED OPPORTUNITIES.
But, it doesn’t have to be this way! Consider designing specific, responsive web pages to host online menus – with strategic customer journeys that can help them enjoy a better stay. We envision online menus that feature opportunities to learn more about the brand, submit feedback, and explore a fourth dimension of what your business has to offer. Sounds beautiful, no?
Alongside these demonic menus is their partner in crime: the QR code. Albeit extremely fun and functional, they’re often found printed on a poorly cut square piece of paper and then laminated, in all their asymmetrical glory. In seriousness, we have immense respect for the haste with which restaurants were able to whip this whole process together. But, if these babies are sticking around for the long haul, let’s brand ‘em right. Living in Mexico earlier this year, we collaborated closely with a hotel who had their QR codes carved into a (perfectly square) piece of wood – a shining example of creating a tactile, on-brand moment out of a practical digital process.
The question isn’t “how do we eradicate the digital?” but, “how can we bridge the necessary digitization of the hospitality industry with positive and engaging personal experiences?”
Another downside of QR codes and digital-anything, is the way it takes away from engagement at the table. Suddenly, there’s no option to have an unplugged dinner, and guests are instantly engaging with their phones instead of their friends. What if the QR code opened to a list of fun conversation starters? What if we treated it not as a menu replacement, but an experience enhancement? When you’re not limited by the space on a printed menu, the experience becomes boundless.
Even looking beyond the digital, there are tangible customer interactions that are being overlooked. Takeout has become exceedingly popular for reasons we don’t have to explain. How can we use this not as an excuse to show up less for our customers, but to become a part of their lives at home?
While comforting and convenient, quick service isn’t throwaway service. Imagine your favourite restaurant included a print of a popular art piece from within their space for you to hang in your own? What if, when you spent a certain amount of money on Instacart, your favourite wine shop tossed in a branded tote?
Signature scents and white labelled toiletries have been a staple revenue stream from hotels for decades, and for good reason. There’s magic in being able to incorporate the memories of a getaway into your everyday. Now, even moreso, while those moments still feel rare.
AND WITH THAT, we open up the floor to you, friend.
If you read this article and have thoughts on what’s next for the industry, let’s chat in the DMs.
If you feel inspired to collaborate with a creative agency who is ready to innovate alongside you as the world endlessly changes course, we’re here for that, too – reach out.
It turns out I’m quite shit at ending these long pieces on a powerful mic-drop.