If this last 6 months has taught us anything, it’s that nothing is guaranteed. And while at the beginning of the year, the majority of the industry was expecting fairly plain sailing before we moved into the more uncertain waters of life outside EU regulation next year, 2020 has proved to be anything but smooth.
Over the next month, many government schemes instituted to support our industry through these tough times are being wound down. The Eat Out to Help Out scheme provided a welcome fillip for operators to attract diners back, which hopefully filtered funds back down the supply chain. But this has now ended, just a few weeks before the widely-praised furlough scheme is to be phased out too.
I fear that with the backdrop of most catering equipment dealers and suppliers’ trade at least 50% down on where it would be in a ‘normal’ year, we will be facing a fresh wave of disheartening redundancies. Already, we have often covered major names in this sector cutting their workforces, and scrolling through social media sites like LinkedIn really humanises the numbers when stories of personal misfortune in the job market are recounted.
The smart money in the industry seems to point towards businesses not returning to pre-Covid levels for 18 months to 2 years. But whether the talented personnel now sadly having to be let go will stick around that long to be re-appointed is anyone’s guess, though some brain drain looks all but certain.
In the midst of all this chaos though, many businesses at each stage of the supply chain are attempting to make the most of a bad situation. Manufacturers and dealers alike can lean into the acceleration of delivery, takeaway and ‘dark kitchen’ services, providing products and kitchen outfits for these purposes. Likewise the coronavirus-prompted changes at restaurants, front and back of house, both transform the dynamics of kitchen design, and provide opportunities to supply more hygiene-related products and services. Anything from hand wash stations to sneeze screens to kitchen sanitisation services have proliferated in this climate.
But the fundamentals remain that as long as social distancing has to be enacted, the capacity of dine-in sites is severely diminished, and fewer people are willing to go out and socialise, even with Covid-safe measures in place. The whole point of hospitality is to be social, and the prevailing conditions mean it is less than fun to meet with multiple people right now – the very reason for operators requiring commercial kitchens and equipment.
The fact is that this current period is all about surviving, rather than thriving, and we all just have to be as agile as possible to get through it, in the hope of a better tomorrow.