What Customers Want: The Hospitality Operator’s Guide in a Post-Covid World

There is pent up demand to dine out – more so than pre-Covid, with two thirds of people saying they will eat out more often. Despite this, with venues running below capacity due to necessary social-distancing measures, many hospitality businesses will need as much help as possible to make a successful comeback.

In a bid to support the industry in its time of need, Feed It Back’s ‘Customer Pulse Survey’ analysed feedback from over 11,000 people living in the UK from a database of pub, bar, restaurant and fast casual operator mailing lists to glean crucial insight into customer mindsets when returning to the UK on-trade.


Pre-Covid, 45% of respondents said they dined out weekly and 27% of people most frequently visited independent restaurants. Additionally, 24% visited street-branded restaurants; 15% went to bars/cafe bars, while 11% visited coffee shops/grab & go and another 11% spent their time in community pubs with the remainder respectively dividing their time between gastropubs, fast food venues and retail/leisure parks. 

Bars/cafe bars were most popular with the 18-24 age group with 33% of this demographic spending time in them. 25–44-year-olds showed they were the most venue-promiscuous, visiting a fair spread of all types of hospitality, but favoured both independent restaurants and bars/cafe bars. However, from age 45+ peoples’ interest in visiting bars waned and the majority clearly favoured independent restaurants and high street branded restaurants as venues of choice.

In terms of preferred locations to visit, 34% of those seeking independent restaurants sought them out in rural locations. Independents were considered to be more popular in the North, whereas bars showed they had a stronger draw in London and Wales. High street brands scored highly in the East and Midlands.


Post-Covid, Feed It Back has identified that 18–34-year-olds are the most keen to get out more and consumer intentions to support independents are high, particularly among older respondents. Comparatively, 18–24-year-olds are driving pent up demand to get back into bars more specifically than other venues.

36% of people intend to visit independent restaurants more frequently, followed by 22% planning on visiting high street branded restaurants and 15% visiting bars/cafe bars.

When hospitality reopens in May, the question of how far people would travel to dine out was raised. According to the Feed It Back Customer Pulse Survey, people will initially look to stay relatively local with 45% looking for less than 30 minutes of travel time. London, Wales and the West Midlands however has seen more people admitting that they plan to travel a little further for food and drink.

Understanding that great food, service and safety measures are a given, people were asked what else was most important to them when choosing where to eat out (when restrictions were fully lifted). Results revealed that most guests were more likely to stick to what they know and love (26%), and this was regardless of location and particularly noticeable as a priority among older guests.

Interestingly, only 5% of people were interested in trying something new, showing that there is renewed nostalgia for indulging in (and recreating) former experiences. Loyalty to what is known and loved is higher in the North and Scotland.

Only 1% mentioned the importance of dog-friendly venues and 5% would seek out somewhere specifically family-friendly, while just 6% would take a recommendation from a family member or a friend. What this shows is that motivations for visiting venues post-Covid are not initially being swayed by pets, children or even other people’s recommendations. Instead, when planning to venture out, customer needs and preferences are largely based on craving an individual experience that is personal to them.

In a post-Covid world, the urban area operators will notice that the captive audience of impulse diners will have diminished, largely owing to a more flexible working-from-home culture in place of office-based commuters. According to the data, just over a third of respondents intend to go back to work/study daily from 21st June onwards. Over a third of Londoners expect to commute 2-3 days per week.

Lifestyle & values:

The majority of respondents (48%) said they had intentions to order fewer takeaways as hospitality reopened. In and amongst this, takeaway intention is fairly consistent across all regions with slightly less demand in London than other regions.  As lockdown ends and hospitality reopens, the market share of the newly expanded takeaway offerings within the UK will be reduced as consumer dining moves outside the home once again. However, this aspect hinted at customers looking more closely at keeping their health in check due to coinciding with only 1% of respondents revealing plans to visit fast food outlets after hospitality reopened highlighting how there is already consumer-fatigue regarding fast food.

Sustainability and food and drink sourcing has grown to become a growing concern for just over half of guests (54%) consistent across all ages ranges and locations, showing that customers are becoming increasingly conscientious about eco-factors, quality of ingredients and caring about a business’s ethics, core values and social responsibility.

34% of 18-24 year olds now have a thirst for getting back into bars/cafe bars and yet now 27% of this age group are also interested in visiting independent restaurants too – a 14% leap in interest since pre-Covid times, reminding that even the most youthful demographics are favouring venues that appear to be independent, boutique-like, craft-touting or good at showcasing artisan skills and rustic credibility. In essence, venues that show they are run by people who care about them and don’t offer up the cookie-cutter anonymity of mainstream chains. Intentions to support independent businesses are strongest in the North and Scotland.

Crucial in-venue factors to consider

A number of Covid-related factors will be important to guests once they are in venues, with table spacing a bigger concern for older guests, but decision-making factors such as ability to book a table; availability of walk-ins; Wi-Fi; mode of ordering; speed of service; hygiene ratings; team friendliness, ventilation; outdoor dining; table spacing and Covid-safe procedures being outlined in advance will continue to be consistent across all types of location from rural, city through to towns and villages. In addition to this, regionality will not play a role in changing those decisions either.

72% would prefer to not order their food via their mobile phones when visiting a hospitality venue, however preferences are skewed based on age range. Within the 18-24 years age bracket, there is ambivalence regarding mobile ordering with 52% preferring not to use their device and 48% wanting to order via their phones. As a stark comparison, the older the customer is in age then the more preference there is for venue owners to display menu options rather than take the route of only using mobile ordering. In the over 55s age bracket, over 80% regard mobile ordering as a need they do not want fulfilled.

Out of those who preferred not to use a mobile phone to order food, those aged 35 and over stated that they wanted to read a regular menu or ask questions about the menu with the word ‘ask’ featuring highly. Another word that featured highly was the word ‘person’ showing how much our nation has genuinely missed seeing people and human interaction in general. London and Wales however see a higher preference towards mobile ordering than other parts of the UK.

What the hospitality industry needs to know to drive repeat business

Good hospitality is a top factor for driving repeat business – getting the basics right (food and service) is an absolute must for reopening. Team cheerfulness and friendliness will make all the difference.

Food quality was raised as a key concern across all areas of the UK when restaurants reopened and one third of guests said they would prefer a wider selection rather than a reduced menu. Item availability on the day was noted as more of a concern for the older demographic. One explanation for this is that people have invested a lot of hope in their first experiences back in hospitality venues and that places pressure on hospitality leaders delivering their dreams and offering up positive experiences. Their heart may be set on certain dishes, so expectations need to be managed and menu options accurately communicated so that positivity and yearning are not met with disappointment.

A fifth of guests stated that nothing more than good hospitality was the key to bringing them back, whereas offers of a discount resonated more with 18–34-year-olds.

When describing the perfect eating out experience, the food was front of mind for all ages, but service was more important to the 35+ group. Friendly service was essential across all ages.

Sector variations that will affect your business

  • In the bars and fast casual/grab & go sectors, offers and discounts were a slightly bigger factor followed by good hospitality to bring people back time and time again.
  • For fast casual, a loyalty scheme was the 3rd biggest in comparison to the industry which saw ease of booking as the 3rd most important factor in bringing customers back.
  • For casual dining operators, good hospitality was the biggest factor but very closely behind was offers/discounts. Wide menu choice was the 3rd biggest factor.
  • Sustainability of food and drink influencing a decision resonated more so in premium casual operators.
  • Bar goers are more likely to spend 30-60 minutes travelling whereas pub and restaurant goers want less than 30 minutes of travel time.
  • Those respondents in the fast casual and bar sectors prefer menus with a wide selection, however pub and restaurant operators saw that food quality was more important than a wider choice.

Key points your hospitality business cannot afford to overlook

  • Aim to create a local independent vibe, even if you are a national brand.
  • Coffee shops/grab & go brands will have to work harder to win back regular customers as visit frequency is likely to be lower.
  • Consumers have said team friendliness is a big factor, so service with a smile – even whilst wearing a mask – is essential.
  • Good quality food is an absolute must; focus on executing dishes perfectly every time.
  • Consider fewer menu changes and use seasonal specials.
  • Consider table spacing, particularly when not busy.
  • Food sustainability is an influencing factor. Consider how you are telling your story.
  • Balancing takeaway orders with dining ones will be a challenge.
  • If using mobile ordering technology, have physical menus on hand if needed and ensure staff are on hand to answer questions.
  • Opportunities exist to use loyalty to influence behaviour using offers and discounts. Offers can be value-added.
  • Preference will mostly be to reserve tables in advance but customers also want to walk-in. Consider how you might cater for that.
  • Provide clarity on Covid-procedures: booking confirmations, website etc.
  • Clear communication (and apologies) are needed if items are not available on the day.
  • Think about the demographic of your customers and try to flex the service to suit their typical preferences.

Feed It Back CEO Carlo Platia said: “Pre and post-Covid customer sentiment towards going out has changed, as have the pressures of expectations. Operators need to take note in order to make a success of reopening. There are also renewed intentions to support independent restaurants, albeit some customers may think of smaller brands as independent. Covid has meant that more guests are more likely to stick to what they know and love initially, and are inclined to continue to stay relatively local when drinking and dining out to begin with when they venture back into hospitality venues. By taking notice of all key areas of insight and changing behaviours, our industry can return to growth, but it needs to take note of all of the ways it can drive repeat custom and stay in tune with its guests and their adapted mindset to reflect the change they want to see.”

Feed It Back

Feed It Back is the customer experience dashboard for hospitality operators.  It gathers the data to tell you how customers are feeling about your business and shows how you’re performing across your estate, by region, by venue, in absolute detail.  You can see what customers love and exactly where they think you can improve to keep them coming – so they recommend you to others. Feed It Back’s experts become part of your team, highlighting trends, making sure you don’t miss subtle details and sharing insights to help you build your reputation.

It currently boasts a range of clients including: Loungers, Boston Tea Party, Tenpin, Marston’s, Friday’s and Paul UK, to name a few.

For further information, contact allears@feeditback.com