Beyond Survival - How creativity in a crisis could change the restaurant business model

Well, where do I begin?! Since my last blog, it seems that just about everything has changed. A sombre time for all; it's life, but not as we know it. And when it comes to an industry whose foundations are built on being 'social' rather than 'distant', you don’t get more of an obstacle than a global pandemic…

My last blog discussed the importance of having the right systems in place, because environment and service are no longer confined to what happens inside a restaurant. Fast-forwarding just a few weeks saw this take on a whole new level of importance! And I’m proud to say that I’ve been working with some amazingly adaptable chefs and business owners; embodying the spirit of enterprise with some truly creative ways to deliver food and bring people together, despite being apart.

Starting out with post lockdown voucher schemes, we've seen everything from restaurants diversifying to deliver meals and chefs teaching online cooking classes; right through to pubs offering ‘take away pints’, online quizzes and gigs. And of course, who could miss the way the sector has helped deliver nutritious meals to key workers, people facing financial hardship and the physically vulnerable?

More than just a knee jerk reaction...

Initially a survival tactic, businesses (from independent pubs right through to Michelin starred restaurants) are finding that takeaway food and drink is becoming a viable revenue stream. It will play an important role moving forwards--as despite calls to reduce the two metre rule, venues will lose precious covers to social distancing and click & collect/home delivery could help bridge this gap.

But that’s not all...

Even when social distancing is hopefully a thing of the past, people will have acquired a taste for exciting takeaway meals from previously eat-in only venues. Frequent business travellers, in particular, will appreciate a much wider offering than the traditionally less healthy options of the past. There’s only so much curry and pizza anyone can eat in one week; maybe we will see restaurants grabbing a slice of market share from the ‘dark kitchens’ built for UberEats and Deliveroo?

Consistency across all customer touchpoints will still be critical moving forwards. The truth is that past this emergency phase, people investing in high-end takeaway meals, online cookery classes and related merchandise, won’t be impressed when an environmentally unfriendly, unsightly package arrives; and the public has been very sensitive to businesses' social engagement during this crisis, with many firms vowing to carry on with community initiatives after it's (please God) over.

As business models are adapting to the 'new normal', having the right partner will help ensure that any extra customer touch points - delivery vehicles, packaging and merchandise, for example - are on-brand and that staff uniforms are safe but in keeping with the overall look and feel of your restaurant.

The world has just got much smaller...

Who knows how badly travel restrictions will affect the sector? A significant chunk of foreign tourist footfall will be lost, but there should also be a captive audience #staycationing or day-tripping instead of going abroad.

Whatever impact this has on numbers, customer experience will go beyond being able to create a safe but inviting environment for your guests. No one at any price point appreciates a difficult or inflexible booking process, especially not during a time when people may need to self-isolate at any moment. And having the right tools will be essential for keeping customers up to date with how any changes, from government announcements to the weather, may affect their dining experience.

Dialogue with your customer base is only set to get even more business-critical. And the right technology can defuse potential problems, strengthening loyalty at a time when a customer may not be able to simply show up at another restaurant if there is an issue with their booking.

So what about funding?

For some there may be even bigger structural changes to their business models moving forwards, as restaurants continue to take out loans and seek capital investment. And with new shareholder perspectives on board, alongside the motivation of repaying lenders, we will no doubt see more imagination and bold moves coming from a sector that has been turned on its head in 2020.

Food and drink has always been more than just fuel for survival. Even before ‘civilised’ society, the earliest humans ate together. And so we will again. Industry passion will be what gets us through these unprecedented times. Obviously everyone is still finding their way through this mess. But with flexible strategies, along with the right partners and government support, hopefully the creativity of a much-loved industry will enable it to prosper again…

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