Australia’s two major cities have currently been in lockdown for over ten weeks with Melbourne now being in lockdown longer than any city in the world, 235 days so far and one month remaining. The prolonged closures on food and beverage venues have ranged from hard to devastating, not just from a sales perspective, but on the lives of hospitality workers and their families.
However, creative food and hospitality operators have managed to innovate, stay agile, plan for the end in sight and have reinvented their business in order to prepare for the huge demand that his been building up and will let rip once the lockdowns end. Cafés and restaurants, along with bars and hairdressers are at the top of everyone’s to do list.
“Nobody’s asking about our safety protocols, they’re not even asking to be seated outside. They don’t care where they sit – they just want to go out to dinner again.”
Alessandro Pavoni, a’Mare Restaurant, Sydney, speaking at AFR on 17 September, 2021
Firstly. let’s be clear from the beginning, the new normal, is not normal as we know it. Our industry has changed for ever, this is not a bad thing, so we must all embrace change and use it to thrive in the new food economy, let’s call this supply. Secondly, we have cashed-up customers who are hungry for hospitality, let’s call this demand. We’ve learned from the USA, UK and Europe that money is not an obstacle, however, securing a table reservation or a seat in your local café is.
Craving social contact and service
For those that were able to effectively adapt, takeaway and delivery sales have been the lifesaver of food business large and small, but getting back to dining out is what people truly want. Customers are human and humans yearn social contact and service when it comes to dining and drinking experiences. Never has the demand been so great from customers seeking positive experiences from food and hospitality, due to such a significant decline in ‘in-store’ interactions.
In saying this, on-line shopping is here to stay, as Australians under forty are totally addicted to food delivery and this is set to increase as delivery services include alcohol, coffee, groceries and even popcorn for your next stay-at-home Netflix night.
Some trends may have changed for the long-term, with drive through sales globally at an all-time high, with the world’s top QSR’s (Hungry Jack’s, McDonald’s, KFC, Chick Fil A and Taco-Bell) redesigning their drive thrus to accommodate three+ lanes of traffic, plus technology to reduce service transaction time featuring pre-order apps etc.
These types of redevelopments and solutions appear permanent, as it is evident that some habits in a post-covid world may be retained.
From celebrity chefs to small café operators many are proud of how they have been innovative and creative, and this is reflected in their capability to go back to first principles when it comes to food and hospitality. Countless local operators pivoted their business out of necessity during 2020 and from all accounts, many have found their new calling, with a new business approach and product focus reshaping their future business plans.
Spreading their risk, adding additional revenue streams and acknowledging frailties in their previous business model has been a bitter pill to swallow, but has strengthened their businesses for the future.
Only time will tell how many maintain their new business approach and how customer behaviours may change, but in the interim the industry as a whole waits with bated breath just to see how many small, medium and large operators are still there, ready to rebound after what has been such a tumultuous time for so many, for so long.
Francis Loughran FCSI is managing director of Future Food