Socialising is a fundamental human need… it’s not going anywhere… We are on pause at the moment but the question is how will it come back?

Chris Miller

The question is what will socialising look and feel like in the next few years?


Patterns of social behaviour have been affected during the lockdown in a way that is unlike anything that has happened before. More time being spent at home has inevitably meant more time spent socialising closer to home, and our respondents think this trend will lead to the resurgence of the local high street.

It is unclear whether the boom in home entertaining, daytime restaurant trade and other social trends that have become prevalent will be here to stay. However, what all of our respondents agree on is that as people spend less time in their traditional workplaces and more time remote working, they will also socialise nearer to home. They see this as leading to a growing importance in third spaces – those semi-social spaces such as bars, cafes, restaurants and hotels - which offer potential to replace the social network that was previously built around the office.

Our respondents predict that the more agile independent and smaller scale operators within the industry will adapt fastest to this growing need. The chains that have been so dominant and which to a degree rely on homogenisation of the offering may prove too cumbersome and will not be able to compete with the independent and smaller scale operators that can offer a product that is truly tailored to local needs.

None of our respondents working in the food and drink sector believe socialising is going away because of Covid-19. Some frame their position as a gamble, but ultimately believe that people will always crave social interaction. The question is what will socialising look and feel like in the next few years?

People are naturally social, they look for connections with each other. Feeling socially isolated is as bad for you as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It’s the epidemic of our time

Islam Mahdy

Mental health issues with working from home

Working harder with less social interaction is simply not good for mental wellbeing and there is a clear link between burn out and working from home. Employees working from home lose out on socialising at work and need to find a local equivalent.

It’s also noted that a lack of sociability can negatively impact on an individual’s career path. They are not promoted as readily as they might have been pre Covid-19 because they are missing out on social interaction and face to face engagement with their managers.

Our human behaviour expert anticipates home working increasing routinisation and the intensification of work. Short and repetitive tasks will become even more frequent and where people were once self-organised they’ll be increasingly centrally managed by technology. Again, this can have negative consequences for mental health.

Local, local, local

As people continue to spend more social time locally they expect quality and choice closer to home from the venues that they used to socialise in.

It might to be too early to draw any long term conclusions, but in some cases historic hubs of socialising have almost dried up, while others have flourished. David McDowall has picked up on a particular shift.

Home workers are clearly frequenting local, independent food and beverage retailers in a way they have not done historically. Independent cafes and coffee shops, for example, are coming into their own and even local pubs are doing well if they adjust their model and offer deliveries.

If you’re going to be local, you’ll support local businesses that support you

Katrina Kostic Samen

Home entertaining

'The development of the delivery and cook at home market: what probably would have happened over a five year period, it’s just been done in three months'

Chris Miller

Our respondents suggest that home entertaining has usurped public venues when it comes to socialising. In this context restaurant deliveries have proved very popular, particularly from high end restaurants, and several of our respondents think quality gastro pubs and restaurants will continue to offer delivery options. The novelty and luxury of amazing food being delivered to your doorstep has clearly tapped into a latent demand that was not being serviced before the pandemic. Similarly, the cook at home market was a fledgling sector before the lockdown but has developed to the point where it is a real contender within the hospitality market.

Revamping the high street

'I’d like to see vacant buildings repurposed… or local food offerings supported. I want to see local producers engaging with sympathetic councils and investors… where they pay rent based on turnover, it needs to be fluid'

Katrina Kostic Samen

Sympathetic local authorities working with local food and drink producers could revitalise moribund high streets and help them become destinations for a whole range of social, instead of retail, activity.

Third spaces as social hubs

'Like a 17th century coffee house where you can work and meet others'

Robert Adam

People were already using bars, coffee shops and restaurants as work venues before the pandemic and to an extent the pandemic has both normalised this behaviour and increased its prominence. Robert Adam thinks that as people spend less time in the office there will be a shift in the industry from serving the demand for eating and drinking on the go, to more of a coffee house feeling where customers are there for work and meeting, rather than purely for eating and drinking.

The people who are in real trouble are the people who have the large scale funds, the large scale restaurant groups with 100, 200, 300 leases who are going to spend the next two to three years of their life renegotiating those lease positions with landlords who really have a lot of power

Chris Miller

Bigger chains distracted, smaller companies succeeding

The general view is that more nimble and creative companies will do well in the wake of Covid-19. The companies in trouble will be the larger restaurant groups.

David McDowall is convinced that the companies which are going to work outside of the metropolises will have to exhibit multiple functionality, despite the fact that being particularly good at one thing has historically been the model that successful players have subscribed to. What is happening now is that the most successful operators are drawing together different elements of their offering.

'What we're going to see is more of a blurring of the lines between different types of offers, and I think that's a really difficult thing for hospitality operators to get right, because the standard model has quite rightly always been be great at one thing and be famous for one thing'

David McDowall


Amongst local provision that is prospering respondents often note that it is being repurposed, so restaurants might start selling groceries as well as take away food, for example. Pubs have responded to this trend in order to survive and evolve.

Restaurants and bars are actively targeting the co-working or private members space, where they try to emulate the look and feel of “a Soho House lobby” (David McDowall) to provide workspace alongside traditional food and beverage retail. Hotels which might have focused on business or tourism are having to offer something more multi-faceted. A business hotel might also offer workspace facilities or staff development training, for example.

'I think hotels which have traditionally been very geared towards the business conference or the tourist will actually increasingly have to start to think how do we serve local and national businesses in terms of workspace, learning and teaching space, staff development training and all that sort of thing'

Yolande Barnes

Pubs and bars that survive will become cafes in the day and do things like turn into a cinema at night. Diversification and flexibility of these spaces across the community will be key

Philip Harvey

All day vs traditional peak times

'What is happening in more residential locations, is that it is far more spread out across the seven days of the week, and it's far more spread out across breakfast, lunch, dinner'

David McDowall

Our respondents have recognised a flatter curve when it comes to trading times, with reduced footfall at traditional peak times. Hours that were traditionally quiet are now busier. Going forward venues that can make themselves attractive and have good footfall all-day are going to do better than those that have focused on trading at the historically peak times.

Less alcohol, more recreation

'The biggest selling draft product in one of the UK's biggest pub chains is Pepsi, and they sell more coffee day in, day out, than the majority of wide scale coffee operators'

David McDowall

Some of our experts talk of socialising moving away from environments or situations where the focus revolves around the consumption of alcohol, to include more recreational activities such as walking, cycling and golf. In part this is being driven by a reluctance to congregate in places that sell alcohol when meeting with friends and a preference for more socially distanced activities where sociability is still facilitated but not at the potential cost of contracting the virus.

If you have any questions or comments about this report, please get in touch

Attorney Advertising Material © Withersworldwide - The information and opinions contained in this publication do not constitute professional advice