The pandemic delivered a crushing blow to cafés, bars, and restaurants, striking at the very heart of people’s social lives. New survey research suggests that losing access to hospitality venues during the pandemic negatively impacted social and mental health across the globe and reveals a rise in appreciation for the vital contribution the sector plays in providing spaces for people to socialize and relax.
Only a few years ago, meeting friends for a drink at a local bar or joining the family for a meal at a favorite restaurant was a normal part of life. So many memories take place in hospitality venues and yet, until COVID-19, the role of this sector in bringing friends and family together and promoting good social and mental wellbeing was not always recognized and understood.
The research involved a combination of polling by YouGov and focus groups conducted by WorldThinks, commissioned by the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking (IARD). Researchers surveyed more than 11,000 adults across 10 countries, which in Europe included France, Spain, the Czech Republic, and the U.K.
Declines in social and mental wellbeing
Two-thirds (66 percent) of adults surveyed said the closure of hospitality venues during the pandemic negatively impacted the social and mental wellbeing of the general population, and almost half (45 percent) agreed that their own social and mental wellbeing had been harmed.
In Spain, the closures were especially difficult with 75 percent of adults surveyed reporting that the closures negatively impacted social and mental wellbeing, and France was not far behind at 71 percent.
Survey responses reflect that the closure of pubs in the U.K. was a challenge for single-person households, older people, and university students who often rely on them more for social interaction, especially retirees who enjoy hospitality venues for the structure they give to their day.
For many of the younger people surveyed across countries, restaurants and bar life was seen as an escape from the daily grind. “For me, it was an excuse to get out of the house and primp up a bit,” said one woman during another focus group. “To put makeup on and that dress you never wear.”
Hospitality venues also created a feeling of community and the ability to connect and interact with others. “Myself and all my friends all go to the same pub, which is the village pub down the road. It’s probably a sense of community, everyone knows each other,” said a male respondent.
As COVID-19 restrictions continue to differ across Europe, where venues are re-opening, Emma McClarkin, CEO of the British, Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), said it was a pleasure to see people enthusiastically returning to them to “meet, laugh, share stories, eat, make friends and escape the office after a hard day’s work.”
Boost in appreciation for hospitality
Through the absence of hospitality venues, their positive impact on society has been better understood. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, European cities lost their buzz, and towns lost a vital sense of community; people weren’t missing the food and drinks so much as a place to conduct their social lives.
The survey research revealed this boost in appreciation, with more than half (57 percent) of all respondents claiming that today they better understand the contribution of the hospitality sector to their social and mental wellbeing since experiencing lockdown, rising to more than 62 percent of adults in Spain.
I think that we´ve been locked up for so long that I value it more. Going out to dinner is now amazing. Two weeks ago, the curfew was over and the first time I went to dinner and got home at midnight. It felt so great. We value it more.”
When asked what factors most impacted their happiness since restrictions lifted, almost half of all respondents globally (45 percent) said the opportunity to socialize with friends and family outside the home. Over one-in-five (22 percent) said cafés, bars, and restaurants now have greater significance as places to avoid feelings of loneliness and 18 percent said they have increased in value as a place to meet new people.
Respondents globally also applauded the hospitality settings putting in COVID-19 mitigation measures. More than two-thirds (71 percent) said that the increased safety measures actually improved hospitality venues, rising to 82 percent in Spain. More than half would like the improved standards of cleanliness (58 percent) and better ventilation (52 percent) to stay once all restrictions are lifted. There was less support in the Czech Republic (30 percent) and France (36 percent) for improved outdoor facilities to remain in place, compared to the global average (41 percent).
Insights for building back better
This survey research reflects the essential role that hospitality venues have in societal wellbeing and individual mental health. As the WHO states, health is a state of physical, mental, and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. When these vital environments for face-to-face interaction are closed, mental and social wellbeing suffer too.
Second, it also shows that the public believes that hospitality venues can still provide a safe environment. People are even enjoying many of the changes that establishments have made to comply with public health measures. The improved cleanliness and enhanced services from digital menus to online reservations have made some venues even more inclusive and efficient. Given the benefits and generally positive reception, these changes should be encouraged to remain in place and improved, where possible.
Third, as different geographies emerge from the pandemic at different speeds, public, private and community sectors at all levels can partner with the hospitality sector to rebuild a safe and thriving café, bar, and restaurant culture. This partnership is essential to the maintenance of appropriate COVID-19 safety measures in place so that customers can confidently return and socialize in these spaces.
The stakes are high for the hospitality sector and European community life reminds the CEO of IARD Henry Ashworth.
Now that Europe has a renewed appreciation for the hospitality sector’s vital role, it is important that we all work together to rebuild a safe and thriving café, bar, and restaurant culture that can flourish despite the uncertain times we continue to face.”
The post Hospitality venues are vital to social and mental wellbeing appeared first on Politico.