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Has the Foodservice sector written off the lapsed Out-of-Home Socialisers?

Has the foodservice sector stopped providing Covid reassurance too quickly with over three million consumers still actively avoiding socialising in OOH venues?

There is much talk of the hospitality sector suffering as a result of consumers looking to protect their financial situation by cutting back on eating and drinking out. Our latest consumer tracking survey has 58% of respondents expecting to eat/drink out less over the next three months, rising to a massive 67% of 35-54 year olds.

However, I’ve been left wondering if the sector has done enough to win consumers back post Covid?  Doing some focus groups recently for a drinks client, I was struck by a couple of participants, a male in his early 30’s and a female in her late 50’s, commenting on the fact that they don’t go out like they used to pre-covid. Instead, they prefer to stay in and drink with friends. Further discussion uncovered that he doesn’t go out at all, while she goes to very limited places. Covid has left them both with a social anxiety, which has changed how they socialise when compared to their lives pre-pandemic.  

But is this merely a niche observation or something we could expect to have a significant impact at UK population level? Looking back at our tracker results, 7% of UK consumers are mirroring this behaviour and actively avoiding socialising due to lingering Covid concerns. This may not seem like a high percentage but it equates to over 3.4 million consumers who are actively avoiding the foodservice sector at a time when it needs to be encouraging as many people as possible to support it, even if only occasionally.  

Of course some of these 7% may well be people who continue to shield  because they are Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV). Clearly the two focus group participants did not come under this guidance as they wouldn’t have been able to participate in the F2F groups. The estimates from April 2022 were that around 13% of those who were classed as CEV were continuing to shield, which equated to circa 480k consumers. Even if this number hasn’t fallen over the last year, it still suggests that at least 3 million of those who no longer socialise out of the home are not doing so for any existing medical condition, but simply no longer feel safe mixing in bars and restaurants.

All this begs the question, has the sector moved on too quickly from reassuring people that their health matters, to the extent that little or nothing is being done to win these customers back?  For the sake of the industry, it would be sensible to dig deeper in terms of understanding what it would take to entice these lost souls back out for the benefit of both parties. While further headwinds remain for the sector, three million potential customers are not to be sniffed at.

Article by Clodagh Sherrard

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