Lockdown. Quarantine. Social Distancing. These words, until a few months ago, were not part of our daily vocabulary, much less our hospitality vocabulary; the very phrase “social distancing” is an oxymoron. And yet here we are, feeling our way through this brave new world, figuring out how we—as people, businesses, services, and operators—adapt and pivot to this evolving way of life.
Here at Brand Bureau, “hospitality” lives beyond restaurants, bars, and hotels. For us, it’s about fostering connections and interactions—not just between chefs and diners, but between friends and strangers, brands and consumers. But with the global pandemic shuttering most brick & mortar businesses, fundamentally changing how we will eat, drink, shop, and travel in the future, how will this change the way we connect with each other? As we increasingly go online for what we previously sought offline, what role will brick & mortar spaces play in our daily lives? How will our behaviors and patterns within those spaces change? And will that change how we define and experience hospitality in the future?
These questions and potential paradigm shifts have been top of mind for all of us as we try to imagine and plan for a post-Covid-19 world. As we envision what the future may have in store, we wanted to explore these questions further—not just to be of better service to our clients, but to start answering these questions for ourselves. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at a variety of places and spaces, hypothesizing, strategizing, conjecturing, on just what this brave new world might look like.
When we tackle big ideas, we like to go from macro to micro—sketching things out in broad strokes before sharpening the details. And so we started by asking ourselves, “what does (or what did “brick & mortar” even mean for us to begin with?” If we go back to the very beginning and then fast forward a few millennia, physical spaces have evolved from purely fundamental (offering shelter, protection), to functional (a place to worship, exchange goods), to commercial (stores, restaurants) and now experiential (spaces as conduits for meaningful connection). Physical spaces house and create opportunities for us to connect over shared interests; to forge new memories, ideas; to discover a renewed sense of purpose. They are places for us to celebrate life events with family and friends, to learn from and get to know strangers, to reconnect unexpectedly, to draw inspiration. Through it all, hospitality has been the invisible thread weaving these experiences together.
So what does this all mean? Will COVID-19 land the death blow to brick and mortar, or will it force an evolution that ultimately saves it? While the pandemic has proven that we’ve now come to rely on technology and all things digital to keep modern society moving along, we wholeheartedly believe that brands and businesses will make its return to brick & mortar, in some way, shape, or form—because there’s no replacing human-to-human interaction, 6 feet apart or otherwise. To that end, we foresee a range of brick & mortar possibilities in the future in response to the new challenges COVID-19 poses today.
Current Challenges & Future Opportunities
The Challenge: Density is Dangerous
In the past, high-density spaces created a sought-after energetic atmosphere, but social distancing will prevent this type of density in a post-COVID world. How can spaces be reconfigured to ensure safety while maintaining a distinctive atmosphere?
The Opportunity: Less is a Luxury
With new rules and regulations limiting the number of guests in a space, brands have an opportunity to leverage space and create more intimate moments. While engagement will be more structured as guests pre-book their experiences, brands can tailor their offerings and deliver spontaneity within the booked experience.
The Challenge: “Only Here” Experiences
Brands have turned to highly immersive, on-site experiences to connect with audiences on a deeper level (e.g. Museum of Ice Cream, Samsung 837). These installations rely on physical interactivity and large footprints to deliver impact. How will brands foster connection with their audiences in a post-COVID world?
The Opportunity: Portable Experiences
Rather than unfurling a branded experience over a vast quantity of rooms and interactions, brands will need to package that sense of exploration and discovery for guests to experience off-premises, in a safe space of their choosing.
The Challenge: Destination Novelty
In the past, consumers were comfortable traveling a further distance from their homes for novel products or dining experiences. As even local travel becomes restricted or undesirable, how will neighborhood brick and mortar establishments satisfy their guests needs for novelty?
The Opportunity: Neighborhood Love
With an increasingly local consumer base, brands and operators have an opportunity to reinvent their offering, prioritizing variety and diversity to turn neighbors into regulars. Rotating menus, limited edition items, guest chefs, and more can keep the community engaged.
As the weeks unfold and we start to find our footing in the post-Covid-19 world, we should continue to ask ourselves: how can we learn from this experience? One good thing you might say this pandemic has taught us—our cultural norms are not quite as fixed or ingrained as we may think. We are able to change. We are resilient. We should harness that mindset and change for the better. While there will be no shortage of challenges in the weeks to come, let’s turn those challenges into opportunities for growth. Whatever the future holds, it’s clear this is only the beginning.