How to Get Your Hospitality Business in Touch with the Low Touch Economy

After months of difficulty, uncertainty, and a precarious balancing act at the edge of business survival, the UK’s hospitality sector may finally be seeing the sun break through the storm clouds. Chancellor Rishi Sunak brought welcome news for the suffering sector with a VAT cut for hotels, restaurants, and other businesses within hospitality. Cutting the tax from 20 per cent to five per cent will build a much-needed buffer for many companies’ pandemic-ailing profits, and a new scheme to encourage customers to said businesses is set to save many in the industry.

The 50 per cent discount promised by the chancellor allows customers to claim up to £10 off a meal per person, with eateries then claiming the money back from the government.

But with a surge of customers waiting in the wings for a hospitality resurgence, it’s important for these businesses emerging from hibernation to be ready for the new world. The new “Low Touch Economy” awaits — and businesses that can’t or won’t adapt will be left behind.

Understanding the Low Touch Economy

Before you can prepare for the Low Touch Economy, it’s important to understand what it is. According to the Board of Innovation, this new structure outlines how both customers and workers will need to adapt to operating at a distance from one another. Employees and consumers alike are expected to display a greater concern towards hygiene practices, distancing, and cleaning provisions supplied by a venue. It is expected that such an approach will become the “new normal”.

Many companies are already looking at ways to get on board. Google search trends show how searches for the phrase “low touch” were up 75% between February and April 2020, and “non contact” searches increased 91% in the same three months. Searches for “low-touch” have soared 133% between April 2019 and April 2020, and “non contact” shot up 200% within the same 12 month period. No doubt businesses are preparing themselves for a low-touch world.

Let’s take a look at how your hospitality business can implement the Low Touch Economy into your processes.

Keeping workers and customers supplied

Preparation is the most important step. For the hospitality sector in particular, a cleaner workplace will be more than the norm. An evening clean-down won’t be enough either — top-up cleaning throughout the day will be necessary, with a particular focus on frequently-touched areas like door handles and counters.

It goes without saying that you will need to stock up on cleaning products to maintain this high level of hygiene around your business. Bin bags, antibacterial spray, disposable gloves, and face masks are all essential to hospitality businesses now. Blue roll is a great option over cloths too, as it can be used and disposed hygienically and quickly, rather than having to constantly rinse out a germ-filled rag all day.

Naturally, hand sanitiser stations are going to be vital — both for your employees and your customers. Keeping one near the door is a good idea, as well as in the staff break room.

Rethink your points of contact

Keeping everything clean is a great start, but the best method of staying hygienic is to reduce contact. This is low-contact after all! So, take a look at your entire business process and ask yourself — where are the major points of contact?

Everything can be adapted to a low-touch process. For example, even popular sushi chain YO! Sushi, iconic for its very hands-on approach to picking up plates of food as they’re whirled around for every customer in the restaurant to interact with, has found a way to become low-touch.

Its well-known kaiten conveyor belts raised concerns in a post-Covid-19 world that customers can pick up plates, change their mind, and put them back on the conveyor belt. Multiple sets of hands may very well have touched those plastic domes, even if the food inside is perfectly hygienic! In order to adapt, the restaurant chain has shaken up its process. Now, customers scan a QR code on their table and order and pay for their food in advance. Their plates are then set on the conveyor belt and spun around the room to come to a halt at the customer’s table, switching on a green light to confirm that they can pick up these particular plates.

To rewrite your own hospitality business’ processes, review your old methods and highlight any areas where customers and items or employees come into close contact. From there, you can find ways to change those points to minimise risks.

Reducing contact as much as possible

As well as keeping your business clean, you will want to keep your customers and employees safely spaced. If your floor size permits, having stickers on the floor indicating two metre distances is an easy way to help guide customers and employees around the building without danger.

Alongside this, establishing a one-way system will keep everything running smoothly without causing too many hold-ups along the way. It also means customers don’t need to worry about turning around and accidentally bumping too close to someone going the other way!

In terms of your staff, similar rules would apply in terms of keeping your staff spaces safely apart. If they are working in customer-facing roles, such as on a shop floor, having designated help desks with two-metre markings near it will help prevent customers walking around in search of staff and potentially having to get too close to get their attention for help with something.

If you haven’t before, now is the perfect time to look into technological upgrades for your business too. According to Sifted, one robot delivery service has witnessed a business boom since the pandemic began, with around 70 robots rolling across Milton Keynes to deliver groceries and takeaway food. They’ve been active for the last two years, but now the company says they’ve noticed people moving from asking about their robots’ customer proposition potential to their robots’ hygiene and safety perks. After all, if a robot is carrying your food to your door, that’s one less set of hands it has touched.

Lowering the amount of human contact along your business’ supply chain may seem like a painful decision to make, but in terms of hygiene, opting for robotic and automated workers presents a perfect no- to low-touch environment.

Even with the relief points brought in by the chancellor, the new low-touch method of providing hospitality will be tricky to navigate. But there’s no going back to old methods and refusing to change will cost businesses dearly. Start preparing your company for the no- to low-touch world that is waiting as you reopen the doors…