When the first national lockdown happened it felt like restaurant operators were in one of two camps: those that were prepared to sit tight and hold off until the market reopened again (believing, at the time, that the shutdown might only last a matter of weeks) and those that decided to explore new revenue streams in an effort to direct as much cash into the business as possible.
In this latest lockdown that we find ourselves in, there is a noticeable change in feel to the way that operators are behaving — with many more in that second camp of doing everything in their power to generate sales from new sources at a time when their doors are closed.
You’ve got restaurants wholeheartedly embracing delivery (Wagamama, for instance, has instructed agents to scour the UK for new delivery kitchen sites) and pub operators creating cook-at-home packages for local customers that are missing their favourite menu items. Oakman Inns has even opened an experimental deli and bakery at one of its sites for punters and lockdown chefs desperately seeking that missing ingredient.
In the contract catering sector, operators are fleshing out their production capabilities with investments in CPUs, while new propositions for the post-Covid workforce are emerging all the time. BaxterStorey has just launched a subscription-based contract and FM offer that will enable clients to sign up to a flexible monthly budgeted plan, where all they pay for is the food and services consumed and used during that period.
All of this points to 2021 becoming a year in which catering business models will shift dramatically and evolve in ways that previously wouldn’t have been imaginable. The challenge for dealers will be to make sure they are positioned to take advantage of the opportunities this could bring.
Operators hungry to try new ideas or trial fresh concepts will need more expertise and guidance than ever, especially when it comes to ensuring they have the right infrastructure to support the direction that their businesses might be going on.
Many dealers have already seen enough evidence to suggest that their design and consultancy services, in particular, will be in high demand as customers increasingly pivot in a bid to remain viable.
That ability to track business model changes and help customers navigate new operational obstacles will only serve to reinforce the value and expertise that dealers can add at a time when operators are plagued by so much uncertainty.