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Impact of COVID-19 on the foodservice industry

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In the post world, business as usual would be anything but usual. The consumer focus has shifted from flavor, variety, selection, etc., to safety and hygiene above all else.

Impact of COVID-19 on the foodservice industry

Restauranteurs today increasingly self-regulate as the situation is very fluid and changes almost daily. As of now there is still no directive from regulatory authorities regarding the strategy for restaurants once the lockdown is lifted. Whether or not we receive any directives, business model and strategy would have to change to navigate the post Covid-19 world for the safety of our staff and customers.

For starters, we would have to closely monitor the supply chain in order to ensure the merchants are also maintaining the utmost hygiene standards when delivering the produce to our restaurants. Also, we may have to rethink some of our suppliers where we know the produce exchanges more hands in order to reduce exposure and source directly from local markets. The packets would be sanitized outside of our premises and then be brought into the sterile environment of the kitchen.

For our outlets, we would be implementing standardised hygiene SOPs across the board. Staff health would be the first focus with daily temperature checks becoming the norm. Every staff member entering any of The Chocolate Spoon Company restaurants would be checked for fevers before beginning their shift. Kitchen sanitisation before, in between and after service would be mandatory with every countertop and available surface being cleaned thoroughly before the produce is handled. All the produce and ingredients coming into the kitchens would be cleaned thoroughly as well. Sanitization of delivery containers and bags would be compulsory. All staff members would be wearing masks at all times as required by the government mandates. Kitchen staff would be handling the food while wearing gloves only.

Within the restaurants, we would most likely implement maintaining a distance of 3 feet between each table in order to inculcate social distancing. This would mean operating at a reduced capacity for each of our restaurants so the revenue model would need to be altered, however, it is the need of the hour. Alternate seating may also end up becoming the new normal. Sanitizers on every table would be mandatory as well for easy access for guests and to maintain overall hygiene.

Our menus would need to be re-thought. We are considering some options such as to print laminated sheets that could be sanitized before and after customers handle them. Another option would be to provide links to online menus that people can access on their personal smartphones to avoid repeated contact. Alternatively, restaurants can have easels or blackboards that display their menus onto a single page for each individual venue.

Tables, chairs and all other seating would need to be sanitized before and after every table turn to maintain strict hygiene standards. Common surfaces such as door handles, faucets and railings would also need to be wiped down more frequently. We would also consider removing salt & pepper shakers and sauce bottles from the tables and provide only packets or on demand.

There could also be a separate area for takeout orders, where the parcels are prepared, sealed and made available with customer names on them. So, people do not need to come in contact with others inside the and can just come and pick up their ready parcels which have their name on them.

With the new business model, we would be encouraging paperless payments as much as possible, particularly via e-wallets. There would be less emphasis on cash and cards as it involves the exchange of these via touch that could be harmful. These would be used only if e-wallets payments aren’t possible at all. For the billing system also, we would consider going paperless and offering bills over email instead.

There are a couple of concepts that we are working on to reaffirm customer confidence while keeping safety at the top of our minds. One such concept is DIY kits where we pre-measure easy to prepare dishes for customers to make in the comfort of their own homes. We are also working on a direct ordering service where the customer can interact with our servers over WhatsApp and we would deliver the food directly to their homes. We would also be encouraging people to pre order their meal before coming into the restaurant to reduce their duration of exposure.

Once things normalize and the lockdown is lifted, we plan on running a “have a drink and order takeaway” campaign which would entail a customer visiting the restaurant to collect their takeout and grabbing a drink while the food is being prepared. This would limit the number of customers in the restaurant but would still provide an avenue for safe socializing.

With the changing landscape of the entire global scenarios due to Covid-19, the hospitality industry would also have to adapt to the new norms that would become the need of the hour. Restauranteurs like me would have to get innovative and find a variety of new concepts to overcome this situation and instill confidence of customers in these challenging times in order to recover.