I think that we can expect an immediate bounceback as soon as the lockdown is lifted. The principal attraction of the NTE for most consumers is the promise of social interaction. People missing seeing friends and family, and a night in the pub, or eating a restaurant-quality meal, will be top of many people’s list when we begin to emerge from the crisis.
That said, I am sure that many will continue to avoid those places that attract large crowds. It seems likely that the lockdown will be lifted long before the virus has been defeated. Responses will reflect perceived threat. Younger people are likely to be less concerned and so are likely to resume established consumer practices. Older patrons, or at least some older patrons, will continue to feel vulnerable and will approach leisure venues with a degree of caution. The more that venues can do to reassure prospective customers the better. An overt concern with cleanliness will help, but there are probably other things that can be done in this regard.
In terms of futureproofing, I think different sectors of the NTE will need to respond differently. Diversification can work in tandem with an awareness of brand and community. For example, much can be done virtually to ensure consumers – especially young consumers – remain attached to an NTE brand. Some music venues are already doing this. Many are now to using programmes that enable large groups to get together online. Everything from DJ sets to wine tasting classes can work to keep brands active during future periods of lockdown. Many restaurant owners will, I imagine, be ready to move into home delivery if a future lockdown arrives. Good, clear websites and reliable delivery will help. I imagine some restaurant owners will already be looking into moving into home delivery – it represents an opportunity to expand business even during the normal day to day business cycle. It’s quite easy to set up a website and a delivery service, but doing it well, perhaps with a few attractive extras added on, will no doubt set some apart. Establishing a strong virtual presence now seems increasingly important. In the future this will have to be more than a facebook page and a twitter feed – although these fora will remain important (but will have to do more in terms of engaging potential consumers than simply list menus or upcoming events etc). Some aspects of the NTE will need to respond differently to others. Virtual tours, virtual pub quizzes, virtual concerts, etc – much will depend upon the willingness of owners to get involved in these activities in the hope of securing brand loyalty and future revenues.
So, my conclusion is that the NTE is likely to remain one of the business sectors most effected by any future pandemics/lockdowns. The attractions of most aspects of the NTE are principally social – getting drunk, a good meal, etc are social activities. This won’t change. However, those involved in the NTE can take a few practical measures to ensure that the drop in revenues in any future lockdown are less harmful and the bounceback is quicker. In any case, it makes sense for business owners to diversify income streams, put some effort into securing brand loyalty, and begin to explore what the virtual environment can do to make businesses viable in the long term.