Impact of the requirement to wear face coverings for hospitality and retail businesses

Earlier this week, the government announced a new set of measures to contain the rise of Covid-19 cases in England. This included the requirement for face coverings (masks or visors) to be worn in a variety of settings. From the website:

  • Customers in private hire vehicles and taxis must wear face coverings (from 23 September).
  • Customers in hospitality venues must wear face coverings, except when seated at a table to eat or drink. Staff in hospitality and retail will now also be required to wear face coverings (from 24 September).
  • People who are already exempt from the existing face covering obligations, such as because of an underlying health condition, will continue to be exempt from these new obligations.
  • Guidance stating that face coverings and visors should be worn in close contact services will now become law (from 24 September).
  • Staff working on public transport and taxi drivers will continue to be advised to wear face coverings.

Face coverings, while not compulsory, were already a common sight in many such settings. For instance, staff at a hotel that I have been advising were already wearing face masks, as were many of the guests. Moreover, the hotel was already offering guests a complimentary kit, which included a face mask.

Nonetheless, this latest announcement is likely to have a significant impact on the operations of retail and hospitality businesses, as well as on their customers’ behaviour and expectations. 

In terms of advantages, the requirement to wear masks will normalise the behaviour, which will help staff and vulnerable customers feel (and be) safer. This will reduce absenteeism, and improve satisfaction.

In addition, it legitimises requiring others to don a mask. Just as it happened with smoking restrictions, it’s no longer about asking others to be considerate to you; it’s just the law. This reduces the potential for embarrassment (of having to ask), as well as the potential for conflict.

In terms of disadvantages, we are likely to see an increase in the price of these items. This will impact the profit of businesses, some of which are already struggling. It will also put additional stress on financially vulnerable customers.

It may also lead to a loss of business, if customers suddenly find themselves without a suitable face covering (e.g., they lost their mask). Some firms – e.g., hotels – may opt to have a stock of face masks to offer to such customers, in order to retain their business. But for businesses with high footfall and low margins, this may be impractical.

And last but not least, the role of face coverings will change in a subtle but important way. While face coverings were simply recommended, their presence was a nice “extra”. It made customers (and staff) feel reassured and looked after. In turn, their absence might have caused some disappointment, but it was unlikely to constitute a deal breaker. We call this type of features “motivational factors”. Now that face coverings are compulsory, they are no longer an extra. They become a “must have” feature, or what we call an “hygiene factor”. This means that their absence will no longer be a slight disappointment, but a source of customer dissatisfaction, instead. Conversely, their presence will no longer provide added value, and increase customer satisfaction. Rather, it will become part of the fabric of expected service delivery. Like sugar in a café. Therefore, managers should now see a decrease in the number of positive reviews mentioning the offer of complimentary mask kits or staff wearing face coverings as a positive.

What are additional advantages and disadvantages of the latest Covid-19 measures, for retail and hospitality businesses?

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