By Isabel Terry

COVID-19 has thrown the hospitality industry into chaos. We understand the challenge this developing situation poses to foodservice businesses, and the difficult decisions that it brings into sharp focus around profitability and resilience.

We believe businesses will weather this not by ditching long-held principles and hard-earned reputations as good employers and customers, but by working even more closely and transparently with customers, staff and suppliers to find solutions and to reduce the risk.

Food Made Good HK will continue to provide advice and up-to-date information for the industry.

Here we focus on how you can get your business in a position so that it is not only ready to re-open, but ready to re-open right. To help consumers feel more comfortable visiting restaurants, it is clear that businesses will need to adapt to get people back through the door. Whilst some of these adaptations will be difficult, they will be necessary in order to thrive in the post-Covid-19 world. Getting a head start on these changes now will help position you for a safe and sustainable re-opening.

Social distancing:

Above all else, to get people back into your business, they will need to feel safe whilst they’re there.

There are already many health & safety requirements that restaurants and food service businesses are required to implement. Including new social distancing and updated hygiene measures which can become part of business as usual very quickly if implemented correctly.

Reservations:

  • Walk-in only restaurants may have to consider introducing reservations to allow for customer management and to avoid queues forming
  • Allow adequate time between reservations to allow for thorough cleaning of tables between guests

Dining areas:

  • Try and keep doors open if possible so guests don’t have to touch a door handle on their way in or out
  • Remove some tables and chairs to create more space or block off alternate tables or seating if it can’t be spaced out
    • In HK, there must be a 1.5m distance between tables (many restaurants are only able to work at 50% capacity in this way which may not be profitable but helps them stay afloat)
  • Let customers know if you have private dining options
  • If you have any outdoor space, now is the time to spruce it up, ensure it’s looking its best – customers will be more likely to want to sit outdoors than indoors (weather permitting)
  • Keep table tops clear and clean
  • Remove multi-use condiment bottles, consider decanting into bowls and saucers that customers can request and that can be washed after use
  • Don’t display any uncovered food
  • Re-think your space, are there any areas where bottlenecks tend to form? Can your space be re-configured? This might mean moving your till so that any queue avoids seating areas, moving tables away from the doors etc.
  • Offer envelopes for placing face masks

Menu development:

  • Review your offerings – your menu is your main revenue generation tool!
  • Re-design your menu based on what you can realistically prepare, thinking about social distancing, health and supply factors, this may mean offering a condensed menu that you are confident you can serve well
  • Focus on local & seasonal ingredients, share your passion for provenance
  • Review portion sizes and keep minimising food waste in mind, both of these can have positive financial implications
  • Health considerations will be more important than ever on an individual level so adapt your menu to factor this in, this could involve smaller portions, trialling calories on menus, including more positive nutrients on menus, reducing the volume of meat etc
  • Consider use of cloud kitchens or shared kitchens if your own kitchen is too small to respect social distancing, or think about spreading kitchen tasks throughout the day, e.g. prep takes place by one person at one time, rather than alongside other activities.

Ordering:

  • Remove bar service if offered, switch to table service or investigate ordering via an app
  • For the time being, remove multi-use menus. Disposable paper or card should be used. This can be both responsibly sourced and easily recycled.

Serving:

  • Try and ensure the same member of staff serves the same tables throughout their visit to minimise extra social contact
  • Allow guests to serve themselves wine and tap water from the bottle
  • Consider ways to serve food without getting too close, such as using a tray or trolley, using a nearby table or asking customers if they would like to move away whilst food arrives.

Paying:

  • Consider taking payments via an app to remove any need for contact
  • Aim to go cashless, accepting contactless cards as the favoured option
  • Prices may need to increase based on changes required. Be honest about this, customers may have to get used to these changes.

Health, safety & hygiene:

  • It probably goes without saying but make sure everything is spotless
  • Increase the frequency of cleaning toilets, door handles, bar surfaces etc and set up logs to record cleaning operations
  • Ensure you never run out of soap in the toilets and back of house

Staff:

  • Re-train your staff on hygiene and cleaning protocols
  • Make sure staff are reminded to wash their hands regularly – consider signage and posters back of house
  • Make gloves and face masks available to staff
  • You may need to re-deploy staff to different parts of the business, ie. Where less staff may be needed behind a bar or counter to minimise numbers, but new positions such as managing the door, taking customers temperatures on the way in, may be needed
  • Check-in regularly that staff are happy and confident in their roles and with any new tasks

Adapting business models

Riding out this crisis until things get ‘back to normal’ probably won’t work. A rethink of your business model will be needed.

Alternate offerings:

  • Revenue diversification will most likely be essential. Adapt your menu and explore delivery and takeaway options or refine your existing processes.
    • What do you serve that travels well?
    • What dishes are already the most popular?
    • What are people ordering more of?
  • This will also help to remind customers that you’re open and operating
  • Get creative and look at what others are doing for inspiration: click and collect, at home meal kits, pre-packed picnics, produce boxes and private dining could all be revenue earners.

Suppliers & supply chain

  • Check your tariffs, now could be a good time to check with energy, water, gas, internet & phone providers to check if you’re on the most appropriate tariff. Switching tariffs can often lead to savings.
  • Re-negotiate and re-think your supply chain, now can be a great time to forge new relationships with more sustainable suppliers whose values align with yours
  • Use this time to investigate smaller suppliers who you can set up positive partnerships with

Customer acquisition/retention:

Travel and tourism are going to take a long time to recover, so it’s more important than ever that your restaurant caters to your local community, not just tourists. Loyal regulars will help keep you going.

Positive communications:

  • Use your judgement about appropriateness of marketing during this crisis
  • Keep your website up to date and let customers know that you’re open
  • Ensure that social media and emails are checked daily, this may mean focussing on only one social channel to make sure no enquiries are missed
  • When enquiries come in be friendly and sensitive to customer needs or questions – customers will want confidence that it is safe to visit and that appropriate measures are being taken
  • Make sure all staff are well versed about your offerings and the booking process, as well as any changes in place
  • Make sure your menus are updated and accurate across all comms
  • Ensure your Google business listing & Trip Advisor listing are up to date with opening times, contact numbers/emails
  • Beyond acting responsibly, you will need to be vocal about your efforts so that customers are aware and feel confident dining with you

Community involvement:

  • Work with other local businesses and learn from each other
  • Look for opportunities to help local causes
  • Be active on relevant forums and groups
  • Organise and host local events and tell your customers about what’s on locally

Technology:

  • Think about what technology could really help you, whether it’s contactless payments, an online booking service or email marketing, consider what could add the most value to your day to day service and whether it’s worth investing.

Sustainability:

Don’t let practices you’ve worked hard to implement fall by the wayside. Try and use this time to re-assess and re-build some parts of your business that perhaps you’ve been struggling to change e.g. menu offerings, where your food comes from etc.

  • Where re-usable is no longer possible, look for items either made from recycled resources or that are recyclable
  • This could be the perfect opportunity to finally ditch the non-essential items you’ve been clinging on to, e.g. straws, stirrers
  • Keep on top of research around the safety of re-usable cups etc.
  • Do your research and keep on top of the latest news/regulations/changes
  • Re-open with more than just survival in mind. Think about public benefit not just financial sustainability
  • Use FMG 50 as a free tool to help guide practice around sustainability

Top 3 take-aways:

  • Use this time to prepare & plan for a new way of working
  • Use available resources: Oyster Sunday’s Reopening Critical Path for Independent Restaurants (pre-translated in multiple languages) for updated SOPs
  • Stay informed: check government guidance for employers daily & reach out for advice

Links to sources:

SRA webinar: Re-open Right: https://foodmadegood.org/reopen-right/

SRA, Preparing for a safe and sustainable return to service: https://foodmadegood.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/REOPEN-RIGHT.pdf

Thoughtfully by Sophie https://medium.com/@fullythoughtout/how-the-hospitality-industry-will-make-a-comeback-836b812369cf

David Chenery, Object Space Place: https://objectspaceplace.com

Oyster Sunday: https://www.oystersunday.com/resources/criticalpath

Other useful sources:

Black Sheep Restaurants COVID-19 Playbook: https://blacksheeprestaurants.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/black-sheep-restaurants-sop-covid19.pdf