What is normal anyway?

By Sarah Peet

There is no doubting that we have changed. 9 weeks ago, the world seemed like a scary, dark and yet still, an exciting place to be. Our businesses fell down around our ears, to some this was catastrophic, to others it was the perfect excuse to shut up shop without the shame of failure in an industry that was already on it’s knees, to most it was just an overwhelming feeling of confusion and fear.

There are experts everywhere telling us we need buy Perspex shields, sanitiser stations, masses of yellow tape, a booking app, an ordering app, and thermal thermometers. The list goes on but above all we are being told to brace ourselves for the new normal. The New Normal sounds like a clinical, socially distanced fun sponge, a cross between Logan’s Run and The Truman Show but without even the forced intimacy. It certainly does not sound like something my fellow hospitality professionals will tolerate, not because they want to flout social distance rules but because, well, we have never been normal.  Our challenge now is to ensure that the New Normal is anything but that. Our challenge is to make our venues fun, relaxed places, that people want to visit, meet friends, make new friends, find a partner and let their hair down. This is the Our normal. A normal that sees the good, the bad and the downright insane day and night and still laughs in the face of immense pressure and adversity  We are the most adaptable industry in the world, and that is for one reason only. The Human Factor. You can put as much Perspex between us as you like, you can make us stand two meters apart, but we will find a way to work our way back to our normal. 

In his book “The Great Good Place” Ray Oldenberg talks about “Third Places” he suggests that for a healthy existence, citizens must live in a balance of three realms: home life, the workplace, and the inclusively sociable places. “Where people can gather, put aside the concerns of work and home, and hang out simply for the pleasures of good company and lively conversation” Third Places are the heart of a community’s social vitality and the grassroots of democracy. 

So how do we make people want to be part of our normal?

We train our staff to be exceptional hosts. They should be well versed and confident in both product and procedure and be able to put the guests mind at ease, whatever social distancing measures we must take. 

Revisit your company culture. Re induct your team into your business and create a buzz around reopening.

Keep the pressure off yourself and your team, strive for perfection in your product but don’t be dismayed if your new procedures don’t work immediately. Its ok to go back to the drawing board.

Where possible (and I know this will be hard) refrain from replacing half of your team with an app. It will be tempting, wage costs are high but an app can’t converse with a guest, polish cutlery or run to the corner shop when you run out of milk.

Don’t Covid compete. Share best practice with your neighbours and competitors. Create allegiances and don’t be scared to ask for help.

We must take the lead, we must be happy in our environment, we must refrain from dragging our guests into the political conversation and keep them away from our worries. We must guide our guests and be the guardian of their customer journey.

Most of all we should be human, we should help people feel our normal. A normal that never existed.

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