“It’s your delivery ma’am!”, rushing towards the main door, I caught a glimpse of the delivery boy leaving a parcel at the doorstep. Sigh! Finally, after a long haul, I was overjoyed to stuff my face with delicacies that I so craved for. Feels like yummmmmm, heaven!
Our consumption patterns overall have changed dramatically in the face of Covid-19, food and dining had to be the ones drastically affected because of their essentiality. With restaurants around the world shifting their strategies, we spoke to chefs and owners around the world to understand how the businesses will sustain themselves and what we, as consumers, should be expecting.
We spoke to Mao Bao, a quick service restaurant specialising in Chinese JianBao from New York City. They have had to let go of all their staff and have completely ceased operations. They are also anticipating a rise in menu pricing because there’s already a hike in the cost of raw materials. With the costs rising, the menus will begin to shrink as restaurants will be forced to work with local ingredients. Chef Sandeep Sreedharan from Mahé has come up with a special take-away menu that uses staples yet stays true to the modern coastal cuisine he specialises in.
What caught my attention is, while browsing through food delivery apps, I noticed transparency in the pictures. They represent the hygienic functioning of using masks, gloves, disinfectants, PPE kits, battery operated sanitizer dispensers and contactless digital thermometers. The kitchen looked spotlessly clean like all the appropriate measures were being taken. They made sure of their staff members follow the new guidelines provided by the State Government. This applies to all those restaurants who have dared to open during the COVID 19 pandemic. But this doesn’t mean that every restaurant will open. Some might shut down for good and the ones who are taking orders will be allowed to only run their kitchens for takeaways. Going out and dining is a thing of the past and this is our new normal!
However, Chef & Food Entrepreneur Tarun Sibal is very hopeful about things going back to the way it was and asks us to not give up on Saturday nights just yet. He says, “Sure, things will look different but will still be fun. In today’s time, our next conversation is about our last meal. So, if we survive through this onslaught, we’ll come back stronger and leaner on the other side. He is also looking at create a digital feed of the kitchen and back area to ensure utmost transparency and build trust.
Looks like even the ambience and silverware will have a revolution! To cater to different levels of caution, restaurants will have to be extra vigilant in how they get the customers to trust their hygiene levels. Since most of the time, packaging for home delivery is just an afterthought, we need to be more conscious of catering to the needs of the customer and follow the new norms set by governmental organisations. Executive Chef at Sea Salt Café, Anokhi Shah, is putting extra emphasis on sanitisation using high-temperature washers and other means of disinfection to ensure her customers feel safe. However, she still maintains that take-away would be her priority.
With the F&B industry being one of the most capital-intensive spaces, it is essential for these establishments to come up with alternate channels of revenue to stay afloat till the crowds start pulling in. Earlier this month, Pooja Dhingra’s Café Le15 closed doors because if you don’t risk one thing, you risk everything you’ve built which in her case included her various patisseries across Mumbai. With every entrepreneur questioning whether they should shut operations, Anokhi from Sea Salt had some great advice. “You cannot look at a business as a short term project. Any business has a rough patch but if it’s profitable, it’s worth sustaining.”
This is the time to get creative with your business strategies. Chefs are taking to social media and are hosting online workshops, sharing recipes and coming up with digital cookbooks to ensure they don’t get lost amidst the noise. You can still be relevant even if your primary channel of contact is temporarily broken. Chef Sandeep of Mahé has the right approach to the situation as they are taking it one day at a time and are waiting on complete governmental regulations to come through before taking any major step. For now, all any business, be it any industry, can do is take it slow and steady and stay afloat.
If you can afford to adapt to these new measures, the food industry can remain an operating business. You might not get to choose a table, a waiter might not pull a chair for you, smelling different dishes coming in and out of the kitchen or enjoy the ambiance of your favourite restaurant, but you still can savour your taste buds by ordering in or picking it up!