THE FACE-OFF IN F&B:
Creativity and collaboration vs Covid-19
This is a battle that has affected the Goliaths as much as the Davids. Mcdonald’s has suffered a significant decline in results since mid-march; Starbucks has had temporary café closures and modified operations since May; and Yum! Brands operating restaurants such as KFC and Pizza Hut have closed 7,000 outlets worldwide, according to Globaldata. How then will the Davids emerge unscathed from this crisis? Firstly, let’s get one thing clear: David is not the underdog but the underestimated. There is a big difference. In the same way that battles may be won with guile, strategy and alternative means of going to combat – think guerilla or ninja – instead of bringing out the big firepower, so too will the independent restaurants and small F&B groups prevail by collaborating and brainstorming.
Think ninjutsu and lessons can be drawn from it. Its principles for psychological self-defense apply very well to current times. For eg, “You cannot control your environment, but you can control yourself.” This is a very stark reminder that Covid-19 is here to stay for quite a while, but eliminating its presence – or even that of your own fear – is not the goal. Rather, the goal is to be calm and focused in the face of fear.
In this state of calmness, ideas are born, and the community spirit is revived. Restaurants that have turned to the online space find that their delivery menus are reaching an even more diverse pool of customers, especially for those who have not managed to get table reservations at their indulgent restaurants of choice. Chefs and winemakers are also making their presence felt in customers’ homes with virtual masterclasses and tasting sessions. For instance, Emmanuel Stroobant makes sure his diners get the full Virtual St Pierre experience by engaging with them via Zoom.
It doesn’t stop there. Technology provides one of the springboards for restaurateurs to find stable ground in their journey ahead. Ghost kitchens and pop-up concepts could be the way to go as it minimises capital investment and quickens entry to market. For example, smart kitchens equipped for deliveries and digital-only Singapore restaurant brands such as Publico Pastabar and Hureideu - Korean
Fried Chicken in Singapore have provided the momentum for Tiffinlabs, a food tech company launched in 2019, which is on track to roll out 1,000 smart kitchens globally to meet demand for home dining. In the community, ideas to address cost management and customer engagement, among other topics, were discussed at Food & Hotel Digital Week held July 13 to 17. In a session titled Re-imagine Horeca Design & Experience: A Dialogue, industry players cautioned that while creative “vanity” concepts will be put on hold in the near future, the uncertainty could most certainly forge creative partnerships to the customer’s benefit. For instance, different operators may start to share spaces to reduce rental costs; such as a coffee bar during the day and a wine bar at night.
This becomes a more viable business model for smaller independent restaurants while attracting the attention of customers who get to enjoy more options at the same place. Or the same operator could create similar concepts that will work within the same space, but with a few tweaks in design and ambience to differentiate between brands.
What is clear is that the industry is busy ideating, collaborating and cooking up a storm to ensure that epicureans will continue to be engaged, and more importantly, feel safe in dining with them.
With many Davids in our midst, the industry will persevere, in the same way that our small nation will continue to make its presence felt on the global stage.
Happy dining, and Happy National Day to all!