As the clock ticks down to July 4 and the date when the on-trade can officially re-open and welcome guests back into pubs, bars and restaurants, operators are going to need all the help they can get to do so safely and in a way that potential customers feel comfortable with. At the start of the lockdown C&C, owners of drinks distributors Bibendum and Matthew Clark, released an app – Local – designed to help any on-trade business doing delivery or collection. It is now ready to help them re-open by also becoming a contactless payment and ordering solution too. James Scott, C&C’s group insights director, explains what difference it can make.
Whatever sort of on-trade can come back from July 4 will look very different to the one before lockdown – with technology potentially going to be a key part of any recovery strategy. Which means a new approach for major drinks distributors like Bibendum and Matthew Clark.
Restaurant and on-trade drinks suppliers are currently in no man’s land. The vast majority of their entire customer base is shut and those that are open are focused simply on treading water, doing what they can to turn over with basic food and delivery options for their local customers.
Ironically the very reason why you exist – to offer a good range of quality drinks – is not one of the first things your customers want to hear about at the moment. Instead they want all the support they can get to help them re-open when they can, and be as profitable as possible when they do.
For years we have heard how our major wine and drinks suppliers are focused on improving the range of support and added value services they can offer their customers – now is the time they can really step up to the mark and prove it.
It’s certainly the approach that the C&C Group, and its distributor businesses, Bibendum and Matthew Clark, have been taking. Yes, there are some conversations going on about how what sort of drinks and wine ranges restaurants and bars can come back with, but in the main its support teams have been looking at what practical help they can offer, explains James Scott, group insight director for C&C.
Fundamental to that support, he claims, is data and technology. A technology solution that allows as many of its customers to trade as effectively and efficiently as possible.
He and his data and insights team were able to react quickly to the Covid-19 lockdown by focusing on the one area where its on-trade customers could still trade – online and through click and collect and delivery services. The result is Local, an app that provides the platform on which any bar, pub or restaurant can promote the delivery services they are offering.
But crucially an app that can also then be used in-venue for when the on-trade does open up and operators, and their customers alike, are looking for contactless payment and ordering systems.
“We wanted to be able to quickly create a community of local businesses that consumers could go to. A community that could grow organically,” he explains. “The hospitality sector has gone through such a crisis that we just wanted to find a way that we could get out and help as many people as possible.”
Time to go Local
The Local app has been set up to be as easy to use for both its customers and their consumers, claims Scott. The C&C team will do all the work behind the scenes, getting outlets set up on the app and paying for all the start up costs and local branding.
It then just leaves it to the operator to push it as much as they want to their customers to use. Each site has control over what products it has on their pages and how they are presented and promoted.
They can either choose from a templated menu or create one of their own, and are free to change the prices when they want. The platform also allows venues to have different menus for delivery, collection and for table service.
C&C has also set up a 24-hour service to support the scheme, with people available to talk to from 8am to 6pm, and then a one hour call back out of hours. “We are covering all the set up costs and not making profit from it,” says Scott.
The only charge being made is between 2%-3.6% depending on the level of transactions being made on the Local app. Any revenues raised are going back into developing the app further and making it more effective for operators to use, stresses Scott. If there is profit on top of that it will be donated to healthcare charities.
The charges are also significantly lower than the 25-35% charges that are common on the national delivery apps that have become so popular in the last five years. It is also, adds Scott, to cover the cost per transaction fee from the Stripe payment system it uses.
Disrupting the disruptors
“The delivery apps have been seen as disruptors to the restaurant sector. We think Local is a disruptor to the disruptors,” claims Scott. “It helps them fight back. These costs should not be as high as they are. We want to put that money back into the pockets of the operators.”
Up to now the main use for Local is for restaurants and pubs to run delivery or collection service, Interestingly in recent weeks collection has become more popular as customers clearly prefer to cut out the extra pair of hands in the process, says Scott. The app allows customers to pick a suitable collection time.
But it’s how Local will be able to work with Bibendum and Matthew Clark customers, once they re-open that takes it on to the next stage of its development. Although Scott is quick to stress the Local app is open to any on-trade business regardless of who supplies them with their drinks.
The Local app has been designed to also act as a contactless ordering and payment service, which is going to be fundamental for any bar, pub or restaurant that wants to re-open. CGA’s latest consumer research, for example, shows that nearly 50% of consumers will expect to see contactless systems in place when they go back to the on-trade.
“The same technology can be used on site to help customers order, get table service or pick up food and drink from a collection point,” explains Scott. It’s also ideal for ordering rounds of drinks between friends as well.
He says there is no need for individual operators to create contactless systems of their own when it has done all the development work for them, with an app that can work and learn at scale.
“As a consumer do you want to be having to download individual apps or connecting into the WiFi at all the restaurants and bars you go to? We have developed a community on Local. One app that can also help local businesses in your area do everything from delivery, collection to ordering in venue. That way you can also be supporting local people and businesses.”
It’s also becoming increasingly clear that far more of our collective spend is going to be in local and neighbourhood areas, which again ties neatly into the ‘Local’ app branding.
“We are seeing that increase in local pride and people wanting to support local businesses, be it the greengrocer or the butcher.”
Based around consumer needs
The Local app is also set up to allow users to order before they even turn up at a bar or restaurant, which again will help those venues running a booking system where only guests that have a reservation will be able to attend.
“You can also use the app to buy a virtual round of drinks when you are not even there. So could be as a gift, or when someone is out for a birthday in a different part of the country and you can’t be there.”
C&C has worked closely with technology provider Hungrrr to help develop the app and there are opportunities to develop it further as more needs and opportunities arise in the coming weeks and months.
Local is being used and promoted, where appropriate, across all of C&C’s businesses in the UK and Ireland. It also fits nicely into the ‘local’ credentials of C&C’s major brands including Tennents, Bulmers and Magners, adds Scott.
Part of his and his team’s role is to work closely with all of C&C’s divisions to see how the app can be modified and improved so that is relevant for all their respective customers’ needs.
“We have got this technology and are now looking to see what challenges there are in our various markets and what we can do to help. Different markets also went into, and are now coming out of lockdown at different stages, which is making Local more useful to people as that happens,” he explains. “We just want to see how we can help as many of hospitality businesses, as we can.”
It is also branding Local so that it is relevant to consumers in their area. So it has taken out URLs for different parts of the country, like Local Ulster.
Local business support
C&C is also working closely, where it can, with local government bodies to see what role it can play in helping them provide the services they want to local businesses. It is, for example, in talks with Scotland’s Towns Partnerships to see if Local can be promoted to all the businesses it looks to represent and provide support to across Scotland.
Similar initiatives can then be looked at for other parts of the country. “We would love to work with other areas of the country. We are in a position to move straight away and get operators on the platform within 48 hours.”
Momentum for the site is growing. It is, on average adding between five and 20 sites a day, with trades in excess of £10,000 a week and 6,000 consumers using the app on a regular basis, 3,500 of which have signed up in the last month. “It’s really starting to take off,” says Scott.
What’s interesting is to see how different venues and consumers are using the app. It has a post office, for example, that has starting to sell craft beers through it, or an Italian Bar & Kitchen that has set up a recipe meal kits service via Local. In time hotels will be able to use it to run their room menu service through it.
But again Scott wants to stress that the app has been set up “distribution agnostic” so that any venue can use it regardless of who their supplier is. Clearly, though, it is particularly useful for those venues that are already working with C&C, Bibendum or Matthew Clark.
“It’s an app that’s working, is endorsed by companies you recognise and is proven at scale. It’s extremely exciting to see how it is going to grow,” adds Scott.
As more customers do use the app it will help Bibendum and Matthew Clark, in particular, to work with them on how it is being used, and by whom. Which drinks and menu items are the most popular and when they are being bought? It can also help venues understand when they are at their busiest.
“They are not getting this sort of information from their till system, so we are able to see a lot more data that can help us build a better picture of how a particular venue operates,” explains Scott. “Information that potentially helps those sites build better relationships with their customers.”
“We can also use this information to have more informed conversations with our customers. We are after all a brand owner of major drinks brands, like Tennent’s, Magners and Bulmers, that are part of their local communities and well placed to respond to trends and consumer needs. This sort of data can help inform the direction of travel for our own brands and our partners’ owned brands.”
All of which can be broken down far more to a local and personalised level than ever before. In time there could be options for brands to use the platform to run promotions.
But ultimately, says Scott, is has developed an app designed to help its customers “keep trading”. “All of this is meaningless if our customers are not trading in a year to 18 months from now. That’s what Local is all about and we are tweaking and honing it all the time to make it as valuable as we can for their needs.”