It feels like the next few weeks are going to be a comparative oasis of calm amongst the chaos which has swept across the planet.
In the UK, the catering equipment supply chain and the hospitality industry in general were running around trying to close everything down in March and April, and with the government’s timeline of reopening slated to start in July, the next few weeks will feel like the eye of the storm: the midpoint of the madness but conversely slow.
In the meantime, many distributors and suppliers have been turning to the healthcare sector and sanitation provisions in general. I have lost count of the number of new hygiene stations, sneeze screens and hand sanitiser products I have seen promoted over the last few weeks. And while of course any company has to be agile and adapt to customers’ requirements, I am concerned that this will be a temporary demand which is already receding.
I have heard whisperings of a small pick-up in equipment orders in general, as operators prepare for a comeback in some form – but what foodservice sites’ final guise will be is unclear as of yet. If dining-in is allowed to return, it will very much depend on what social distancing guidelines are. Current government recommendations set at 2 metres, but this figure differs in other countries, so which sized separation space is best to stop the spread of coronavirus is anyone’s guess.
A smaller distance may make things easier for redesigning both front and back of house, say 1 metre between each chef and each diner, would be relatively easy to accommodate. But if this runs the risk of exacerbating the pandemic then it would be a public health disaster. At the current 2 metre minimum, distributors may see a temporary uptick in work as operators seek to remodel their kitchens to suit. But the capacity of a restaurant would then be slashed to unsustainable levels, which may see many end users either completely go out of business, or decide to take a sabbatical and only return when the pandemic has been eliminated one way or another.
Already it looks like while some dealers have been managing to survive thus far on the work they previously had booked in – which may continue to some extent over the summer if schools due to reopen this month require kitchen renovations – further ahead the picture is rather grim. Forward orderbooks are sparse at best, and the existential threat hanging over the hospitality industry may not go away for some time.
We can only hope that the whole sector pulls together to innovate their way out of the crisis. The old adage goes that necessity is the mother of invention, so we’d all better put our inventor hats on right now.