Reflecting on Covid-19
By Carla McKenzie, Tuesday 28th July 2020
At MYA we have been fortunate during the period of the Covid-19 pandemic due to our pro-active approach and thought leadership. Our team has been busy and innovation and creativity have been at the forefront of our projects. For the hospitality sector as a whole the story has been much more mixed, with large tranches of staff furloughed under the government’s support scheme and all kitchens, (apart from those suppling key workers), have been closed.
As someone who has worked in the industry for over forty years, I cannot remember a time like it; there is no precedent. With the fear of a second peak this coming winter and the certainty that without a vaccine we will be socially distancing, I think it is time to review the economic and qualitative models that are adopted by the different sectors of the hospitality industry. For example, the contract catering industry has for many years used discounts, returned to head offices on purchasing volumes, to fund overhead costs, contribute to profit and support capital investment into client projects. Also, where new buildings are being constructed or existing kitchens and restaurants refurbished, all too often the ‘greener options’ have been avoided in favour of the more immediate satisfaction of financial savings. Change in both these areas is likely, if not essential.
The four million people employed in our sector includes a great many under-30s and the current outlook for them in particular is bleak, no matter how many lunches and dinners out are sponsored by the government on a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday during August. In anticipation of the August and October deadlines when furloughing support will reduce, many in the industry are remodelling their operations for a leaner future. These business decisions are essential if companies are to survive and thrive. Both the way we work and the place we work have changed. Zoom or virtual meetings have become ‘the new norm’ and personally, I have enjoyed the flexibility of this medium and above all, its efficiency.
So, as we emerge from lockdown, and our industry reviews the fallout from Covid-19, what will be the lessons?
- Saving for a rainy day is a must – cash resources are essential for survival.
- Contractors will need to work in a smarter way to deliver their services in future. Central production hubs might be one way forward, but there are many others that could also provide greater efficiency.
- Models that depend on procurement earnings are high risk and less than transparent.
- The high street casual dining market needs to innovate to survive. The chains that went under during Covid-19 were already struggling, static and in some instances, stagnant.
- Every effort should be made to inspire young people into our industry.
- Health and wellbeing are going to be high on the agenda. The high street is going to need to be hot on the heels of the contract catering sector, which has generally operated with a high regard for wellbeing. We are likely to see an increased requirement to inform the consumer on menus with information on calories, for example.
- Leaner operating models will require investment in training and skills.
- Good design will be essential as organisations seek to get the most cost-effective solutions for staff efficiency and customer capacity.
- Food costs are likely to increase as we vote for a return to UK-produced food, and of course we shall very soon be cutting our customs-union ties with the European Union as Brexit becomes all-too-real in action as well as name.
The major lesson of Covid-19 has to be one of change. The new normal is not the old normal of the past years. It is time to up the creativity and innovation and not the moment to make your research and development department redundant. Now is the time to innovate your way out of Covid-19, or risk ‘withering on the vine’!