Coping with corona: how the hospitality industry is dealing with the COVID-19 crisis
2020 will forever be etched in our collective memories. Just before the arrival of spring, COVID-19 spread to Europe and millions of people and business were put in lockdown. Restaurants, bars, hotels and catering companies too were forced to close their doors to comply with governments rules and avoid groups of people meeting. An extremely difficult situation for an industry already dealing with often challenging working conditions. Yet, those working in the sector are often entrepreneurs at heart: resilient, brave and creative when times get tough. Debic reached out (virtually) to professionals at home and abroad to find out how they are coping in times of corona.
Surviving in hard times
With the corona epidemic hitting just before high season the hospitality industry is wondering what will happen. When will they be allowed to reopen? Will things ever go back to the way they were? No one knows, but it is clear that none of the people we contacted are throwing in the towel. They all looked for creative alternatives to get their food and drinks to their customers and to still generate income. Takeaway and home delivery grew exponentially. And with conditions in kitchens changing – think extra hygiene measure, new shifts and distancing – everyone has had to be inventive with time, budget and available space.
Organisation on the work floor
As soon as the corona crisis hit, many restaurants and catering business saw turnover drop rapidly. Gasthaus Kreuz (GER), for instance, lost 60% capacity due to social distancing. This meant kitchens and staffing had to be quickly reorganised to suit takeaway and home delivery. It became essential to downsize, both the menu and the teams. Casa KBirr (IT) has adapted the amount of dishes they make and has changed team shifts so that everyone can still keep their job. Setting up a safe takeaway system has been challenging too. Cantine Copine (BE) has been offering one takeaway day a week, others have mainly been focusing on Fridays and Saturdays.
Boosting online business
With customers having to stay home, restaurants quickly adapted by offering home delivery services. As a result, their use of online platforms and social media peaked. Resengo, used for online reservations in Belgium, introduced a free takeaway module, which was an instant hit, and many businesses stay in touch with customers through Facebook and Instagram, where they post their takeaway menus. Klosterschänke (GER) even started its own WhatsApp group for clients. Some business, such as Casa KBirr, the biggest micro-brewery in Italy, had already been very active on social media before the corona crisis, others had to start from scratch. But one thing is clear: digital is here to stay in the restaurant and catering industry!
Determining the right menu
Adapting the menu was crucial to make it suitable for takeaway and home deliveries. Key are easy transportation and minimal effort for the customer. In other words: keep it simple! Success dishes differ from country to country. Belgian restaurants mainly focus on tasty stews, while Spanish colleagues such as Al Grano choose typical, local rice dishes such as ‘arrocería’. An extra challenge: making their new type of business sustainable. At Gasthaus Kreuz (GER) guests were asked to bring their own containers. Ecological, safe and cheap. For dessert options the restaurant provided reusable small glass Weck pots.
Most business are considering continuing their takeaway and home delivery services once they are allowed to open again. New social distancing rules will significantly lower the amount of customers present at one time, and the new solutions are the ideal way to make up for the loss of income. And what’s more: by that time most customers will be used to having this extra service.
Advice for colleagues
Everyone we contacted agrees: the times ahead are very uncertain so caution is needed. This is not the time to start investing in things that might turn out to be unnecessary. The safest approach is to wait for government guidelines. The most important bit of advice? Stay in touch with your clients. They are your core business and will most certainly return to your business, as long as you keep offering the quality and service they are used to. Sportschule Hennef advises to not only spoil customers, but staff too. Just like you, they are holding strong during these difficult times. Heiligenstadter Hof (GER) sums it up beautifully: “View this crisis as an opportunity. A chance to reinvent yourself and come up with innovative concepts that will also do well once the dust settles.”
We would like to thank the following businesses for their cooperation
Brasserie Darche, Dirk Darche, Rotselaar
Cantine Copine, Karen Keygnaert, Bruges
Al Grano, Carles López Revert, Valencia
Ca Duart, Carlos Duart, Valencia
Vall papiol, Salvador Vernet, Calafell
Restaurant Seelig, Ettlingen
Gasthaus Kreuz, Birkendorf
Gasthaus Engel, Michelbach
Hotel Sonnenbichel, Fischen im Allgäu
Heiligenstadter Hof, Heiligstadt
Sportschule Hennef, Hennef
Klosterschänke, Bad Staffelheim
Dina Ristorante, Alberto Gipponi, Gussago
Casa KBirr, Antonio Aliberti, Torre del Greco
Post - Aperitif Club, Roberto Auricchio, Naples