Valeria Rispo, office manager at Birmingham-based dealer, Kitchen Solutions, muses on how the pandemic has affected both her company and the industry as a whole:
Back in March when lockdown was first mentioned on the news, our conversation in the office turned first to our long term customers and then the industry in general. It seemed clear even then that next to the arts our industry, the industry of eating out, events catering and catering for large canteens, was going to find it difficult to adjust. There was talk of working from home, socially distancing, avoiding crowds.
As well as a few large kitchen fitting projects, at the time we were working with a few pubs and restaurants that were preparing to open, having just re-designed their new kitchens and only just positioned their new equipment. We were now having to advise them that lockdown meant all works had to be stopped and their kitchens would close until further notice from the government.
We spent the next few weeks wondering what the longer term impact was going to be on us and the wider industry. We were fully expecting all our own work to stop – certainly all our projects were having to be at least momentarily shelved. Within weeks however, to our surprise, we did start to receive some requests for complete kitchen refits, with the deadline that they had to be completed before lockdown was lifted.
We decided to take them on and with social distancing and PPE we were able to make these happen, within timescale. In some ways it turned out to be easier to run these projects than it had been previously – the roads were quieter, premises empty of customers and users. In a short time we refitted a whole kitchen in Northampton and one in Bournville. This also gave us hope that cooks and chefs were still looking forward to the end of the pandemic and planning for the future.
For our office at Kitchen Solutions the lockdown meant we had to work out how to implement social distancing. Well for those who have visited our premises they know the office is quite small and social distancing impossible. The only solution was to send the office ‘home’ to various houses. A little daunting at first, but actually as a small business whose staff is very local it didn’t turn out to be so difficult.
As the lockdown progressed and then began to ease we were delighted to see many of our customers returning to work. We began to receive many enquiries for replacement of equipment that had broken down while being switched off. Strangely, equipment sales started getting very busy and so did we. What we did experience and what we are still recovering from is the effect the lockdown had on our own supply chain. With some equipment transport and haulage stopping altogether for a time and many businesses operating at skeleton staff, what would usually have been a very smooth chain of demand and supply began to stutter. Deliveries were arriving late or broken; ‘returns’, ‘replacements’ and ‘out of stock’ were becoming more frequently used than ever.
But things are definitely returning back to normal now. Or at least a kind of normal – the pubs, restaurants, breweries, takeaways are not being put off. They are doing their best to re-open and to remain open. What before used to be only sit-down restaurants are now adapting to also provide takeaways. Beer deliveries are becoming standard.
All these businesses are stocking up on handwash stations, PPE, and are making space for more distance. They are doing what they have to do to continue to provide everyone with food, drinks and atmosphere.
We are getting busier which is good for us, but there is one aspect of the wider catering that is still in very uncertain times, and that is the mobile catering industry. With festivals, markets and other larger scale events severely restricted when will they be able to get back to some kind of normal? Only those who can convert to a mobile catering van or something similar are finding a way through.