With the events and hospitality industry currently on hold, with many uncertainties over when social distancing measures will be lifted and gatherings will be permitted once more, it is unclear what the future will bring for those in the industry.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the accommodation and food service industries have the highest proportion of furloughed staff, with the UK hospitality sector experiencing a 21.3% decline in sales in the first quarter of 2020, according to UK Hospitality.

But although the industry is currently facing unprecedented challenges, some have taken the opportunity to innovate.

The Cocktail Service

The Cocktail Service is a mobile cocktail bar company that provides bars and bartenders for hire for corporate and private events, as well as immersive drinks experiences and bar consultancy services.

However, with the current cancellation of all weddings, corporate functions and other events, The Cocktail Service has been unable to rely on its usual revenue streams.

“Our company has been affected drastically by Covid-19,” Tom Bronock, director of The Cocktail Service, tells Verdict.

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“As an events company we started to see cancellations at the beginning of March and our enquiries have dipped from 200 per month to zero within two weeks. Since then we have had to furlough 16 members of our team, do a huge amount of damage limitation in reducing costs and financial modelling and try and plan for the future. Unfortunately, due to the function we provide the events and drinks industry our revenue has gone to almost zero and will be at this level for the foreseeable future.”

A number of businesses from the drinks industry have made the temporary switch to drink delivery services, such as spirits supplier Highball Brands, which recently launched Drink Drop, a delivery service that has partnered with bars in London to deliver straight to customers.

However, The Cocktail Service has taken a different approach, focusing on boosting online engagement.

“As with many business’s we have had to adjust quickly to the current environment. A major area we have ramped up is our digital marketing,” says Bronock.

“Although we have reduced all other costs right down, we have actually increased our marketing. This includes SEO, newsletters through Mailchimp, running a global cocktail competition through Instagram and building as much content as possible for our resource section on our website. This has actually increased our traffic, engagement rate and visibility which has been a welcome positive. We hope that continued work in these areas will put us in pole position when our customers are ready to buy again.”

The Cocktail Service has partnered with whisky company Makers Mark to launch the ‘Drinkstagram Awards’, a cocktail competition in which bartenders create an original cocktail and post it on Instagram. Two judges from the drinks industry will then pick a winner.

“Some months ago this would have been considered strange”

The Cocktail Service has also tapped into a significant rise in the use of video conferencing and streaming, which has been utilised by those from a range of industries to reach customers.

According to data from AppAnnie, there were 62 million downloads of video conferencing apps across iOS and Google Play in mid-March, with many businesses harnessing this trend to boost revenue and engagement at this challenging time.

Bronock explains how this is new territory for The Cocktail Service.

“Another area where we have developed using technology is the advent of virtual cocktail masterclasses and wine tastings with our partners Berkmanns,” he says.

“We have already delivered several masterclasses with the use of Zoom for clients in Dubai and London. Some months ago this would have been considered strange, but in this environment the client satisfaction has been really high.”

However, customers have responded positively to the new initiatives.

“Our customers have responded very well. Open rates of mailouts have increased by 18% and click through has increased by 22%. Our traffic is up on our website and our following on Instagram has increased to 17K. It’s clear that customers want to be engaged with although, for our industry they are not yet ready to buy.”

Bronock said that the use of virtual services may still be incorporated once the Covid-19 pandemic has subsided, with the possibility of delivering virtual teambuilding in the future.

“The long term impacts are pretty grim for the events and leisure industries”

Bronock believes that although many organisations in the hospitality industry have been exploring creative ways to reach customers, how the current situation will shape the future of the industry remains uncertain.

“We have seen a lot of really innovative activations and strategies to reach customers in our industry. From Sofar Sounds (a live music promoter) delivering their gigs from the artists homes to Red Bull launching the first ever virtual festival, there has been a digital transformation within the events industry,” he says.

“As already mentioned there are plenty of virtual masterclasses and tastings happening, cooking and cocktail making demos, live Q&As and industry interviews. What’s been great actually is, despite everything being virtual, we have definitely seen a more human side to a lot of businesses in the industry and the faces behind the great companies in our sector.

“The long-term impacts are pretty grim for the events and leisure industries. The lack of clarity on the outlook in terms of social distancing and when events will get back to normal is hurting much of the industry. The key elements that we are almost certainly going to see are business closures and unemployment. Although there is a level of support available financially, many business still have a significant cash burn that will only last for so long. For many business such as ours it’s a waiting game to see when the industry will recover.”

Read more: Coronavirus case studies: How Toast Ale is using its pivot to online to help others.