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Festive spend spotlight: UK diners swap restaurant bookings for takeaways

Rising cases of Omicron at the end of 2021 spelled a muted festive period for restaurants and pubs in the UK. Instead, diners opted for takeaways on the sofa over drinks at their local pub, meaning delivery platforms celebrated a record holiday season. 

Government guidance to limit social distancing just before ‘Mad Friday’ – the day hospitality businesses expect the biggest takings of the festive season – dented consumer confidence and left many restaurants and pubs facing a deluge of cancelled bookings and excess stock.   

Our latest spend data, based on the purchasing habits of over 22 million UK bank cards, found that  December 2021 spend at pubs and restaurants was down 18% compared to December 2019. 

This follows a year of uphill battles for the restaurant sector, which faced inflationary pressures, a skills shortage, and supply chain issues leading to a lack of many key ingredients. This cocktail of misfortune meant that spend in restaurants fell 9% overall in 2021 and is yet to return to pre-pandemic levels. 

On the other hand, consumers choosing to stay home and limit socialising signalled a stellar Christmas for delivery platforms like Just Eat, Deliveroo and Uber Eats, which saw spend up 102% since December 2019, as demand for door-to-door delivery continues to soar.  

But what does this shift in consumer behaviour mean for hospitality brands? 

Restaurants should find ways to incentivize a return to dining out 

If there’s one lesson to learn from how consumers spent in December, it is that restaurants and pubs need to build consumer confidence in dining out safely.   

It is worth remembering that there’s much to gain from driving consumers to restaurants. In May 2021, when hospitality fully reopened, we saw first-hand how much Britons love eating out. In the space of a month, from April to May 2021, restaurant spend was up 98%. 

But, without any ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ support this time around, restaurants and pubs should consider introducing their own offers and incentives. Whether it is rewarding repeat visits with sensible discounts or free add-on items to a meal, restaurants should personalise offers for their customers to build loyalty and drive spend. 

Invest in the dining experience 

From reassuring customers with Covid-19 hygiene measures, to building an enjoyable atmosphere in restaurant, enhancing the in-restaurant experience is key to reminding consumers of what they love about heading out for a meal. 

But if restaurants and pubs are to emerge from the pandemic stronger than before, they should consider expanding into home delivery (as long as they have a strong go-to-market plan rather than just jumping on the bandwagon). Even before the pandemic, delivery platforms were seeing astronomic growth, which has only intensified in the last 18 months as consumers adapted to at-home delivery as a viable option.   

Delivery continues to grow and is a dining trend that may outlast the pandemic 

Overall, takeaway platforms enjoyed healthy growth in the last year, with spend increasing by 72%. On average, consumers are also using takeaway platforms 46% more often than during the pandemic1, showing that certain lockdown habits are here to stay.  

For those brands that want to maximise the delivery space, the challenge is how to move their loyal customers to new ordering platforms. They will need to create an omnichannel experience that offers delivery incentives to their most engaged customers. And that’s where Cardlytics can help by finding your most successful path forward. With insight into 1 out of every 4 UK transactions, Cardlytics puts purchase insights into action every day for our advertisers through banks’ digital channels. Contact us today to learn more! 

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