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The consultant’s view: Denis Daveine FCSI

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The general manager of Alma Consulting outlines the impact of Covid-19 on the foodservice sector in France

On 13 March, the French government decided to close all places open to the public, except for food stores, pharmacies and tobacconists. Restaurants are completely closed and hotels can still receive customers, but only with breakfast room service and no other activities.

Schools, from early childhood to university, have been closed, affecting the entire foodservice economy. Only social and hospital foodservice has had to ensure the continuity of its service.

For the restaurant owners and hoteliers, most have simply put their staff on short-time working and are waiting for the reopening in the hope that their operating costs will be postponed or even cancelled and that their cash flow will be sufficient so as not to close down their activity definitively.

Some of them continue to sell take-away food, others (the better-known chefs) share recipes online, and others produce meals for hospital nurses.

But overall, most activity is stopped. That also has consequences on the agricultural sector, which has to look for other distribution channels for its products.

Projects on hold

Most construction sites are stopped or at least slowed down by the health measures to be put in place to ensure the safety of workers. Most project owners, whether public or private, have also reduced activity and cannot validate study phases, which increases project completion times.

Thus, most consulting firms have had to put their staff on short-time working and reduce their activity. Fortunately, teleworking has often been implemented, which allows them to keep part of the activity.

Working from home has become the rule, all meetings are held via video-conferencing and the use of the mobile phone is more important than in normal circumstances. Staff have taken their own computers and monitors with them and work remotely with a shared server.

As foodservice consultants, normally, we work in the office and travel a lot for meetings, visits, construction sites.

Back to business as usual?

As to what’s next, the government has announced a gradual exit from the lockdown starting on 11 May. So, we have to be patient and continue to work under the current conditions.

For restaurant owners and hoteliers, it’s more complicated because no date has been set for them to start up again. Indeed, the risk of a ‘second wave’ of the infection is high if the possibilities of gathering in enclosed areas are allowed too quickly. There’s little chance these operators will be able to reopen before summer.

I don’t know if we’re going to change our attitude or if, once the crisis is over, we simply won’t go back to our old habits.

During this crisis, everyone says that we need to review our economic models – buying locally, supporting agriculture, restoring autonomy so as not to depend on foreign manufacturers – and social models –reconsidering people who have menial tasks because they are the ones who work to enable us to continue to live, giving the health services the means to function.

Perhaps, when this is over, the catering industry will be more careful with its purchases and will consider its staff better; but as this will necessarily come at a cost, with competition helping and consumers not necessarily being ready to buy more, I fear that if there is any change, it will only deepen the inequalities between the rich and the rest.

Working together

FCSI France, is working with other professional associations for those employed in the technical foodservice sector – including manufacturers, designers and consultants. We are working together to prevent the professional kitchen market fall down or stop.

It’ll be very difficult for companies that do not have much cash and will not be able to invoice in March or April. Then, when the crisis does end, we think that all our projects will restart in the same time and we won’t be able to do them in the expected schedule.

Denis Daveine FCSI is general manager of Alma Consulting in France