2020 has been the year of restrictions and significant demands being placed on many industries. Perhaps one most significantly impacted is the hospitality industry which saw a 23.1% contraction in the first quarter. Here in the UK, the sector reached a value of over 100 billion Euros in 2019 and was predicted to continue growing at the same steep rate. This was dramatically pulled to a stop on 16 March 2020 when Boris Johnson announced lockdown restrictions and asked everyone to stay at home. Overnight, restaurants, hotels, pubs and other businesses designed to provide services to customers were forced to close their doors without indication of when this could end.

Roll round to October 2020 and although new restrictions may be on the horizon, the hospitality sector is beginning to open back up. In a world of Test and Trace, social distancing and significant changes required to make a building COVID-secure, these businesses are being forced to readdress how their services are offered. And, with a new dependency arising on the digital world and online services, many are turning to online booking systems to achieve this.

What are the current restrictions on hospitality businesses?

We are in a world that is still struggling to get on top of the virus and return to a level of normality. And, as we continue to wade through this, businesses are being asked to regularly update and adjust their design to fit the latest recommendations. However, as of early October, venues serving food and drink for consumption on the premises must:

  • Provide hand washing and cleaning facilities.
  • Provide clear information about handwashing and social distancing around your workplace.
  • Ensure that tables or seating of different groups is spaced 2m apart. This can be reduced to 1m where mitigations are in place, including screens or barriers..
  • Not accept table bookings for groups of more than 6 people – unless it is part of a social bubble.
  • Take reasonable steps to prevent separate groups of six from mingling with each other.
  • Be closed between 10 pm and 5 am.
  • Where alcohol is served, ensure customers are seated to prevent crowding and social contact.
  • Remind customers and staff to wear face coverings where required.

The restrictions above mean that many businesses have needed to entirely change the way they serve their customers. Where once, a strong dependency may have been placed on walk-in customers, there is now a need to control the number of customers in the premises at one time. And, combined with this, you need to take measures to minimise crowding and excessive queuing which could lead to social distancing regulations being ignored. As if you didn’t have enough on your plate already, many of these restrictions are regulated by law now and can result in fines if not properly adhered to.

Conducting a risk assessment and analysing the challenges your business is likely to face is vital. It will help you to understand the points and areas of concern while also allowing you to identify changes that could help support your business opening.

How do booking systems help?

Managing the number of people in a building at any given time can be a challenge. But booking systems, both over the phone and digitally, have long helped businesses to understand their available capacity. And now, in 2020, these services have become even more vital. You still want to offer your customers convenience and the security of having a table available while also managing safety for your own benefit. Online booking systems allow you to do this in an electronic and sustainable way. By implementing a ‘Book-Only’ policy, you’ll easily be able to see how many people are due to be in the premises at any given time. This also gives you the freedom to adjust seating if needed or accept latecomers without the risk of overstuffing.

Do I need a booking system?

The need for an online booking system will depend on your business. Smaller restaurants, cafes or pubs will benefit from being able to effectively control smaller numbers – especially if their building presents a significant potential for overcrowding. Equally, larger businesses will have a better grasp of the total number of visitors in a building at any given time. Another key benefit of booking systems at this current time is the support it gives for Test and Trace technology.

NHS Test and Trace

As of 9th October, businesses within the hospitality industry must:

  • Obtain the name and contact information for at least 1 member of every group.
  • Keep a record of all employees working on-site at any given time.
  • Keep these records for up to 21 days.
  • Provide the data to NHS Test and Trace if requested.
  • Display an official NHS QR code which allows customers to ‘check-in’ digitally..

In the event of a positive test from an individual who has been in your premises, you may be requested to provide this information to the NHS so they can trace others who may have become infected. For you as a business, this makes the contact information significantly easier to access and share with the relevant people.

Note: It is important to recognise the GDPR issues surrounding collection data and using it for different purposes. This article from Big Hospitality covers some of the areas and actions you can take to prevent a breach of data protection laws.

The benefits of a customised booking system

In addition to supporting your business through these difficult times, booking systems offer a host of advantages – especially when they are customised to suit your needs. They can be built to integrate seamlessly into your website, with the same look and feel as the rest of your branding. These systems can be built from the ground up, allowing you to show available slot times, updated closing times and with the ability to accept all forms of payment. They can be fully integrated with third-party systems and can be hosted either internally or externally. Either way, you’ll have the ability to better manage the ever-changing capacity of your premises while making it easier than ever for customers to start coming through your doors again.

Here at Media Orb, we build bespoke booking systems for many businesses, including restaurants, hotels, hairdressers and travel agents. If you would like more information on how booking systems can improve your business during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, get in contact today.