Experiential hospitality - here to stay or a flash in the pan?
I was at GRIF (Global Restaurant Investment Forum) in Amsterdam, followed by the Casual Dining Show in London and the word ‘experience’ was in use a lot, at both events. And that got me thinking about what the word means for both operators and consumers in today’s climate.
‘Experiential’ is the marketing buzzword of the moment and the pub market in particular is riding the trend with a whole host of experiences to get customers through the door such as darts, table tennis, rock climbing and even axe throwing. Indeed brands, at large, across the whole lifestyle landscape are focusing on the ‘experiential’ to cut through the noise of their competitors. With consumers increasingly putting value on experiences, rather than physical ‘stuff’, they can’t afford not to take experiential seriously.
But, do the same rules apply in hospitality? You can of course argue that hospitality is all about the experiential; it’s about experience after all. Or is it? Is there a difference between experience and good old-fashioned hospitality? Axe throwing in pubs is a great novelty that attracts customers in the short-term. But once they’ve been once or twice, what’s next? A few destination venues in city locations may well stand the test of time but the reality is likely to be short-lived for most operators. Experiential venues are expensive to develop, run and market; how do you keep people coming back for more?
Surely, it’s by offering first class, old fashioned hospitality? The type of hospitality that makes customers feel valued and special. Obviously, the quality of food is of huge importance but it’s the simple things that go a long way to create the experience that people will come back for; asking guests if they have a table preference, engaging in conversation, making eye contact, being friendly, taking customers’ coats, bringing a jug of water to the table….
Is current consumer reluctance to spend making operators take their eye off the ball when it comes to basic hospitality? Are they trying to replace it with other activities? Our industry has endured some seismic changes of late, but ultimately, the core to its success is focusing on customers and how they feel. People will always need to eat and drink but they won’t always want to climb walls and throw axes….