THE FACE-OFF IN F&B: Cre­ativ­ity and col­lab­o­ra­tion vs Covid-19

Epicure - - EDITOR'S NOTE - ES­THER FAITH LEW Se­nior Ed­i­tor

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!

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