Hospitality and COVID 19: The grill burns with an amber flame! The hustle in the kitchen, chef demanding the entrees back of the house, and the service staff serving the wine on the tables to our guests. Organized chaos or poetry in motion as I describe it during the golden moments in a day of a venue, a restaurant & in a hotel!
Suddenly, in less than 30 days, all was silent, due to COVID 19 and the hospitality industry from all around the world closed the doors one by one as countries followed the lockdown procedures.
No one could fathom the speed at which COVID 19 spread at a deathly rate to directly affect thousands of businesses world over. From full capacity restaurants in December 2019, to empty and shut doors by March 2020 in just less than three months!
I researched and dug in deeper, to perhaps provide an insight into how challenging and quite frankly depressing it has been during these harsh times. In parts of the world restaurants and the hospitality sector are still completely shut, or partially open. One fact is certain, the recovery period will be like a cold iced winter hoping for the sun to shine bright, but the truth my friends will take some time before any normalcy comes into play. During this extremely challenging period, several businesses will have no choice but to close doors permanently.
When a restaurant is showing good profits, it is generally between single to early double digits, i.e. 8 to 14 % percent profit bottom line. So how does a venue survive with a sudden shutdown, with all the fixed costs related to the business still on an outstanding account? Staff salaries, rent, utilities and not to forget all the vendors and shareholders demanding their payments. With absolutely nothing coming in, owners, franchisees, and even those who have opened restaurants for a showcase had to take a final decision to, unfortunately, close the business temporarily or close it permanently. Also, referring to businesses that have been opened for 5, 10, 15 years have seen their final days! You see, restaurants run on cash flow, and switch that tap off, and you are in trouble. No restaurant owner wants to say I had to shut, but how long can you survive during these harsh times? One month, two or four months? Perhaps, some fortunate tenants are whose landlords have reduced or differed the payments for an extended period, but they also have their debts to be paid off.
Even as the industry struggles to the new norm of only a 20 to 30% occupancy while dining in. I see that calculation difficult to be a positive result as the numbers will not justify the service and costs related to operating a full venue. The option of deliveries and takeaways sure will help the numbers, but how many people are opting for these choices currently. Cutting staff, and staff hours, minimizing expenses, but to what extent as the whole purpose of service and ambiance is the feeling one is entertained with the experience we give as hospitality professionals. I am not saying what is right or wrong in this scenario, but knowing the related costs to well over the past 25 years in the industry does make me worry of the future.
Ideas spurred up to have glass barriers in restaurants, for a safe distance, so you will be eating that desperate meal you wanted out with a barrier and your partner on the other side of it. A gym was showing partitions between treadmills? To keep a distance? Even in flights that resumed for an emergency, in order for citizens to go home, keep the middle seat empty and the two ends will be ok? Creative alternatives have to be thought of during times like these. Knowing the facts on social distancing, planning, and taking the correct precautions will benefit each person during travel or going out for a meal as has been guided by the government bodies across the world respectively.
Develop a game plan for hospitality and COVID-19
What are the choices we are left with? Well, one fact remains, that under the guidelines from the governments, social distancing is mandatory, temperature checks for staff and customers are required at all times, on a daily basis. You will perhaps have to locate alternative suppliers who deliver most if not all items and raw materials to reduce the inflow of vendor trips. One can schedule weekly trips from vendors to reduce human interaction. Most importantly, controlling your costs, for now, would be a perfect setting to review all aspects of your business and in all areas of how to reduce costs. There are several areas in each business that will be forced to restructure and remodel before opening a full scale. Menu reengineering, creative packing material, more instructions on the packing of food safety and heating steps, food handling from the kitchen to the guest table. Tables and chairs to be sterilized frequently, Electronic payment methods to be offered…the list goes on.
What gripped the whole world during this pandemic was, is unimaginable as thousands of people have lost their lives. Stay home, stay safe, keep social distance when out with the necessary precautions. Build your immune system to fight against the virus. How? I cannot say as I am not a medical specialist, but our bodies are made to fight, strengthening our immune system!
For now, stay safe and keep following the guidelines directed by our government leaders respectively.
Inputs BY Sumeet Kumar
With over 25 years in the hospitality industry from the USA, India, Europe & UAE.