What a time to be alive! An exclamation that has absolutely no semblance for good or bad. I exclaimed likewise when I learned that Barrack Obama was elected as President of USA when the doors to the 2-star restaurant I work for shut its doors temporarily due to COVID-19, and likewise when I read that Eleven Madison Park is closing its doors permanently.
I said — what a time to be alive! — yet again when I saw serpentine lines around NOMA for a takeaway burger, and once again when I saw Chef Grant Achatz showcase his door pickup menu, to think of the theatre his team performs every night to now.
The heavy onset of food tech and food delivery has drastically altered how people interact with food. Food companies are making losses globally. The increased amounts of online delivery from restaurants prior to COVID-19 had already reduced average cheque prices, beverage sales, and tips.
The future of the food and beverage industry post-COVID-19 is of uncertainty, but also one of opportunity for innovation. I think it would bring about several changes.
Demystification: The mere act of reducing impeccably plated art to boxed meals and well-balanced cocktails to bulk produced mason jars has taken away some of that magic. I don’t believe magic can die but for now, it’s just about keeping the lights on and surviving the storm.
Cloud Kitchens: These kitchens run without any sit and dine space, run solely by online orders for the business. Companies like Zomato, Caviar, Uber Eats, and Swiggy deliver to customers. Startups like Smart Kitchen Company are creating ripples in the dark kitchen space by providing low-cost alternatives to restaurant owners and chefs. In this model, food providers do not need to pay high rents or high operational costs such as staff salaries for front of the house operations. This model works best when many brands rent the space and share overhead costs.
Boutique/Curated: Every foodie dreams of eating a Michelin star meal at their home with only their best friends. That may very well be possible with restaurants attempting to change the way they play. More pop-ups with very small amounts of guests and 2–3 chefs in a private setting could be a possibility.
Differentiator: In light of the fear of large crowds, delivery services seems to be the need of the hour. To go out to eat is considered a major risk to your life and your loved ones. However, for dine-out restaurants to sustain themselves, they will need to differentiate from the competition. People will only venture out to eat for a magical experience where the restaurant differentiates itself immensely — furthermore, a sanitised yet not intimidating affair.
Spring Cleaning: The Spring on 2020 will be the year of a massive global spring cleaning. The hospitality industry is likely to see a sharp reduction in restaurants that were not differentiating themselves, copycatting ideas, and not focusing on repeat business.
Productivity of Workforce: With the need of social distancing and reducing the number of people in a kitchen and restaurant, skeletal staffing would be the need of the hour. Fewer employees with higher productivity will be best for business. Payroll is one of the highest costs of any organisation. In countries where the staff is paid an hourly wage may see a sharp reduction of team members.
Safety of Employees: In my 10 years of working in hospitality, I have never witnessed such importance being given to the health and safety of employees of hotels and restaurants. The guest may still be God, but from a safe social distance with a mask or gloves on. Establishments can reject the service of patrons that do not wear masks or face shields.
Sanitation: It is safe to say that companies like Johnson Diversey will report higher sales, till cheaper alternatives of the same standard are available. Sanitation is the need of the hour. Hand wash breaks every 20 minutes at kitchen and restaurants will be more than just the norm moving forward.
Chaos is a ladder; every calamity is the breeding ground for opportunity. Anyone who has a conclusion to the future is speculating.