Times are changing for traditional trading patterns

Demand is evening out from Friday and Saturday peaks across the whole week

When growing up in a village just outside Doncaster in Yorkshire it was always very exciting to hear of any new high-quality restaurants opening up in the surrounding area, and my family and I would always make a beeline for them. It felt like we were getting a little slice of London’s dynamic food scene in our part of the world.

They’d often have head chefs and maître d’s who had done time in the capital’s restaurants, and these new establishments were their stab at going it alone in their home region. So often the food would be of incredible quality and great value for money, but sadly they would all gradually fall by the wayside. While they would invariably be rammed on Friday and Saturday nights, they’d then be bereft of any trade on the other days of the week. This was never a sustainable scenario.

Far too many high-end provincial restaurants have traditionally suffered from everybody wanting to eat at around 7:30pm on Friday and Saturday evenings, and sadly abandoning such places on every other day. London and other major cities have been able to enjoy more of an even level of footfall throughout the week, although not as much as they would have liked.

But times are changing, with covid-19 having thrown things up in the air. The gradual build-up through the week to peak trading on Friday and Saturday nights has changed markedly for many restaurants and pubs. At Trinity restaurant in London’s Clapham area, the dining room was reduced from 57 to 36 covers during the pandemic, and since then it has resulted in a more even spread of people throughout the week, which has placed less stress on the team and fuller bookings across all services.

There have also been changes to the times at which people now go out for an evening, which has caused some major rejigging of the way establishments operate. These new dynamics are having positive and negative effects. At Trinity, the dinner service now begins at 6pm and last orders are taken at 9pm as a result of the enforced curfew brought in during the pandemic. That went down rather well, and some people have found they actually prefer eating out earlier. 

This shift has also been felt by pubs including The Lord Nelson in Brentford and The Dodo Micropub in Hanwell, who have found people visiting earlier and leaving earlier, and the late weekend licence has not been put to use for some time at The Nelson. Andy Hornby, chief executive of The Restaurant Group, reckons this shift is, to a large extent, being driven by the work from home phenomenon. People are no longer arriving back home at 7pm post-commute and slumping on the sofa, but are already at home primed for an early trip to the pub or restaurant.

Workers now favour Thursday nights for an office get together

This new way of working is, however, also leading to some erratic behaviour by customers, with some pubs finding random Wednesdays can be their busiest night of the week. Certainly in city centres with office concentrations, Thursday has replaced Friday as the big night out of the week as many people are now frequently settled in their home offices on Fridays.

What is positive about the work-from-home scenario at this early stage is there is evidence of people still doing as much hospitality spending during their time in the office, despite spending fewer days there. Hawksmoor has found workers in London are maximising their face-to-face time with colleagues and clients by frequenting hospitality venues on their days back in the office, and there has also been an increased spend per head. A concentrated spend across fewer days is also recognised by Allister Richards, chief operating officer at CH&Co, who very much believes fewer days in the office won’t reduce the revenues generated at his various food and beverage venues servicing office workers.

There are clearly still many questions to be answered as hospitality operators grapple with the various levers at their disposal in the hopefully latter stages of covid-19, but what is clear is it’s all parts of the country that are having to deal with the changing dynamics of demand. Major cities are now in the same camp as provincial towns like Doncaster in not having the luxury of consistent trade throughout the week, and a smooth easy-to-manage upward curve leading to the traditional Friday and Saturday peaks.

Glynn Davis, editor of Retail Insider

This piece was originally published on Propel Info where Glynn Davis writes a regular Friday opinion piece. Retail Insider would like to thank Propel for allowing the reproduction of this column.