Navigating the ‘New Normal’
As the foodservice industry begins to emerge from the COVID-19 lockdown, we look out onto a changed landscape – some businesses have been able to adapt to the trading restrictions while others have been unable to survive.
Even as customers begin to trickle back through the doors, albeit in strictly limited numbers and with social distancing measures still in place, the future remains uncertain and unpredictable in this new normal. To get a sense of what the post-COVID ‘new normal’ may look like, our partner, Foodservice Rep, sought the input of leading industry chefs.
ADAM MOORE has more than 25 years in the industry to his credit and has worked in restaurants, retail, food manufacturing, foodservice, marketing and sales. He appears regularly on Channel 10, has his own online talkshow Talk’n Chef, and has a strong presence on social media. “The industry has definitely taken a big hit,” Adam affirms – “it’s affected so much, from reduced staff hours to fulltime positions being changed to part-time, and because trading has been so restricted for individual businesses, distributors have seen sales drop further and further, from a loss of 50 per cent up to 95 per cent. Those kinds of numbers are really scary. Some distributors have been able to pivot to retail sales, but after the initial run of stockpile sales that has slowed down too. This affects the whole supply chain – because the manufacturer is reliant on those distributor sales, so this has virtually halted foodservice manufacturing in many cases.”
“ …because trading has been so restricted for individual businesses, distributors have seen sales drop further and further, from a loss of 50 per cent up to 95 per cent.”
Adam believes the lockdown will have shut down about 30 per cent of foodservice businesses for good. “I think the most important realisation to come out of this is how important hospitality is to the community globally – hospitality is a key connector between people, not just businesses and their customers but suppliers, manufacturers, distributors and community groups. A lot of food related charities like Foodbank, Oz Harvest and Soup Kitchen have been hit really hard by this. Tourism, live music and theatre has all come to a standstill and lots of those workers also work in hospitality, so there’s been a massive flow-on effect.
“The positive side of this is that we’ve really shined a light on takeaway and how that experience can be for customers – businesses like the Sam Prince group, who have been offering pre-packaged takeaway packs, will be continuing to offer those services into the future, so takeaway will be better than ever. There’s been a lot of innovation in that area, which has really lifted the game in terms of shelf life and quality of product. Delivery systems will evolve in parallel – I think we’ll see more Australian based delivery systems where the user pays for delivery but the profits go back into the foodservice business.
“Another really important change is the way foodservice businesses have started working with other businesses to cross-promote and provide a value-added service – they’re becoming more approachable, more open with communication.
“Connectivity of people has changed since we’ve been in lockdown – and we’ve seen some innovative approaches, like online dinner parties. I think that will remain a trend into the future, it’s opened up the world. We’ve had this technology for a decade but it’s only now that people are having dinner parties on Zoom and restaurants have been catering for that – supplying the food to each diner’s address so they can have their meals together while socialising online.”
ALEX PATTERSON is the Executive Chef of award-winning Ziva Eats & Pizza restaurant within Club Toukley on the NSW Central Coast. He says that while the club market was pretty much shut down over the past months, there were a few clubs in the local area who had pivoted to takeaway and were also given the green light to sell takeaway alcohol. But, he adds, “I haven’t heard too much in the way of positive feedback out of it – when you factor in the start-up costs, all the takeaway packaging and so on, plus the fact you can’t charge your usual price for the food, it means you have to change the whole business model and that’s impractical for a lot of clubs. Having said that, there are some clubs here which include Chinese restaurants that have always had a strong takeaway component, and they’ve been able to continue trading and are doing quite well.
“We produced just over 600 meals and over the next few weeks we delivered them to our more senior clientele, especially those who don’t have family and rely on the club.”
“At Club Toukley we decided to utilise the shutdown period to review our operations and see what we could do to make ourselves better when we reopen – we’ve been renovating, refining the menus further, looking at improving our business model and doing some rebranding. We changed the menu not long before we shut down, but we’re planning to downsize as it’s quite extensive – because we need to take into consideration how many people we can serve upon reopening. So we’re currently in risk management planning, looking at what may or may not happen.”
The club shutdown hit his casual workers particularly hard, especially those who had been employed for less than 12 months and so weren’t eligible for JobKeeper payments. But, Alex says, “we’ve been able to maintain a good relationship with 99 per cent of our staff – our longterm staff have of course benefited from JobKeeper, and we’re now looking at what staff we need for reopening. Although working hours will no doubt be reduced so as to maintain the financial stability of the business.”
With the club required to shut down at short notice, there was the potential for food stocks to go to waste – but instead these were redeployed within the local community.
“During our last week of operation we were getting different advice every second day, then on Sunday night the shutdown was announced and we were closed by midday on Monday,” Alex recalls. “In the three to four days prior we knew we had a lot of stock on hand, and in our café area we produce take-home frozen meals for our older customers, so we decided on that last weekend to make a heap of those. We produced just over 600 meals and over the next few weeks we delivered them to our more senior clientele, especially those who don’t have family and rely on the club. For us it was about checking up on our customers and making sure they were OK. At the same time I got in touch with the local neighbourhood centre and gave them a heap of ingredients we wouldn’t be needing – fresh vegies, cream, milk. They look after families who need help – Toukley does have an older demographic and some within that age bracket are vulnerable, so we donated 500 frozen meals to them as well.”
Like many clubs, Toukley RSL has been playing an active role in maintaining close ties with the community: “Every day we’ve been phoning members, checking in with them. Toukley RSL’s always been at the heart of the community and that extends to our outer suburbs as well. It’s probably the best possible time for the club to show we’re here to support our members and the broader population. Our CEO has done a tremendous job driving that sort of mentality through the club to our staff – he’s been out there delivering food and that gets your staff rallying behind you. He’s been making sure that our members are OK, taking phone calls and giving up his time.
“People know we’re here for anyone who needs us – and in fact, that’s another reason we decided against offering takeaway. We have a lot of small food businesses in Toukley and if we were to reopen for takeaway we’d probably damage them – and for us it’s more important to show support and give shoutouts to small business in the area.”
(This article first appeared on Foodservice REP.)
To see the perspective of two more chefs from Foodservice REP’s article, click here.
An initiative of Fine Food, Hospitality Unites is the voice of the foodservice industry, dedicated to sharing the collective experiences and solutions to thrive in a post-COVID economy.
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