Posted on Monday, 6th July, 2020
From pre-paid bookings to tables set with salt, pepper and sanitiser, the post-COVID world has generated substantial change for hospitality venues.
So what is the outlook for chefs, kitchens and restaurants as business gradually returns to normal? We ask prominent industry figures David Martin, Ange Ritchie and Danika Heslop to tell us what they think the new hospitality landscape will look like.
“People built new habits and discovered things they may otherwise not have done,” says senior marketing executive for national café chain Jamaica Blue, Ange Ritchie, of the COVID-19 period.
“We believe those customers that started buying takeaway during lockdown when there was only takeaway available may now be more likely to grab takeaway when they don’t have the time to sit in.”
For Jamaica Blue, the biggest change has been a pivot to delivery, which Ritchie can see the chain continuing to promote.
Melbourne chef David Martin, who has held executive roles with RACV, Crown Casino and, currently, Zoos Victoria, believes the isolation period may cause some businesses to question the very way they operate.
“That’s because they have been able to reduce their labour costs significantly. Their bottom line has improved because they’ve halved the single biggest expense in their operation.”
Social distancing measures have increased the need to extract as much value as possible from every table.
“Some food venues are applying timed reservations,” says Martin. “That is, they’re setting down half an hour for cake and coffee, and an hour for a meal and a drink.”
Martin is quick to point out the value of robust booking and phone management systems in order to administer an efficient reservation process.
“They are becoming absolutely essential. The big venues might already have the sophisticated PABX phone system with on-hold messages and promotions but it has to be a focus now for the small-to-medium businesses, too.”
“To maximise your efficiency and table turnover, get your phones and online booking systems sorted out as a priority.”
“Health and safety procedures have been heightened during the pandemic, and customer expectation around food handling and cleanliness is more in tune than ever before,” says chef Danika Heslop, Jamaica Blue’s product and procurement manager.
For Martin, it’s all about managing customers from the moment they return to venues.
“The public will be demanding more from front-of-house staff: sanitising, controlling the environment and wiping down surfaces,” he says.
“There will be a big focus on showing knowledge of, and respect for, COVID. Good venues will have the sanitiser as part of the table setting, the laminated menus and messaging everywhere. And there will be no more communal water or pinch bowls for salt!”
Ritchie concurs, saying that high quality service is the key to getting business back to normal.
“There is an even bigger focus now on an excellent customer experience to bring our loyal customers back and to grow new customers.”
In times of change, people revert to things that are familiar. According to Heslop, the COVID-19 experience is no different.
“We are noticing that consumers are not looking for anything overly complicated at the moment. People are returning to the basics, and looking for items they can relate to—comfort food.”
Heslop adds it’s important to be aware of the financial pressure on some members of the community. “Discretionary spending over the next few months for many will be tight,” she says.
“When people eat out, they will be looking for value and for items that they can’t replicate at home. This might be a barista-made coffee, or an egg benedict. I think they will be looking for simplicity and good quantity so their time away from home is well spent.”
It’s all about chefs understanding the mindset of diners and adapting to meet their needs.
In recent years, plate sharing, divvy dishes and communal dining have become all the rage. Thanks to COVID, says Martin, these dining trends will disappear overnight.
“For starters, I think it’s safe to say buffet dining is dead.”
“But more broadly, other shared styles of dining, such as the cheese platter at the bistro and the big, long communal tables that have become popular at some venues, are no longer appropriate. Chefs need to understand what diners will accept.”
“As an industry, we are simply not talking about those things any more.”
A key response to the pandemic was closing borders to prevent transmission of the virus. For some venues, this continues to disrupt their ability to source normal supplies. The willingness of chefs to pivot at short notice has become more important than ever.
“The supply chain at the moment is challenging, with a high inconsistency of product and brand availability,” says Heslop of Jamaica Blue.
“Chefs will need to adapt to these conditions and be solution-orientated until produce and deliveries return to normal.”
While it’s easy to be caught up in the excitement of re-openings, there are some stark facts behind the industry’s forced shutdown. IBISworld, the global industry research company, predicts a 25% revenue decline in 2019-20 for both Australia and New Zealand as a direct result of COVID-19. Prior to the pandemic, it was forecasting a decline for the Australian hospitality industry of just 0.3% and a modest rise for the New Zealand hospitality industry of 0.2%.
Savvy chefs and operators will be looking at every corner of their business to not only encourage diners back into venues but to reassure them that their safety and welfare is a top priority.
Making operational and menu adjustments that meet the changed expectations of diners will be critical to succeeding in the new hospitality landscape.