We’re all used to hearing how much change everyone has undergone in the past year.
It’s usually discussed in a negative context, outlining how far from reality and normalcy we’ve gotten since the start of the pandemic. The conversation centred around restaurants and the hospitality industry is no different — it’s jarring to look at the number of restaurant closures and terminated workers and come to terms with how much of a hit the foodservice industry has taken.
But if you look a little closer, many positive changes and outcomes are emerging from the incredibly tough year restaurants have gone through. While we hope the industry will never have to undergo the shutdowns, unfair targeting and financial hardships of the pandemic again, the changes and challenges it spurred may help to create a stronger foodservice industry of the future.
Though born out of necessity, the many creative ways operators streamlined their businesses and learned how to stay afloat will set them up for success for years to come. A large percentage of restaurants were not operating as profitably as they could have been pre-COVID-19, with extensive menus requiring large amounts of inventory, a lack of operational controls, excess staff and more.
The way that restaurants simplified menus, in particular, has proven to have a significant impact on overall operations and profitability. At the beginning of the pandemic, many restaurateurs cut down on their offerings based on limited staff and inventory. Consumers quickly adapted to these changes, grateful for the opportunity to order from restaurants at all, and it became apparent that operations didn’t require extensive menus as previously thought. The growth of the takeout and delivery market share also had a significant influence over menus as operators became more conscious of how different food items travelled. In 2020, building a menu with durability and transportability as central considerations became standard practice. This also helped to streamline menus and operations, as restaurants whittled down their offerings to only those that held up well and that consumers really wanted.
Finally, interruptions in supply chains and delivery revealed weaknesses in many restaurants’ food supply. In response, the industry saw a new drive towards the cross-utilization of ingredients. Involving the diverse usage of a particular staple ingredient, it has helped keep food costs and prep time down. While this was pretty standard practice for many operators pre-pandemic (and should be standard for every restaurant), the pandemic further instilled this mindset and the importance of streamlining or tightening operations. This notion will continue to serve businesses well in the future, affording them increased revenues and lowered costs.
Multiple Revenue Streams
One of the most common changes restaurants have adopted has been implementing multiple revenue streams. This has been a true display of resilience, with a complete business-model overhaul for many operators. Since March 2020, foodservice establishments pivoted to offer grocery items, meal kits, online courses and house other brands.
This has been incredible progress for the restaurant industry for a couple of reasons. First, it’s allowed them to strengthen their businesses by instating new, additional ways of generating revenue, rendering them less susceptible to future threats. Many of these initiatives were made simpler this year due to various new liberties awarded to restaurants. For example, restaurants that added patios or takeout windows to serve customers in new ways were able to do so with expedited or simplified permits, as cities strived to support small businesses. Secondly, these new initiatives have encouraged consumers to interact with their local restaurants in new and increasing ways; the nature of peoples’ relationships with restaurants has wholly changed. They now appreciate that they can turn to their favourite establishments for pre-made meals, to provide cocktails to complement their dinner and to attend a virtual event.
The foodservice industry has always been a difficult and sometimes unforgiving place for employees. With long shifts on your feet, challenging customer-service encounters, a lack of benefits, minimal pay and sometimes poor work environments, it’s easy to get burned out, run-down or mistreated. But in the last year, with new time and space to evaluate different aspects of our society and businesses, new attention has come to the negative reputation of employment in the restaurant industry, coupled with new energy and drive to make fundamental lasting changes. One example of this has been the new initiatives to support mental-health advocacy in the foodservice industry. Initially launched in 2018, the non-profit ‘Not 9 to 5’ has gained impressive traction since the onset of the pandemic, when it applied for funding and was awarded a federal grant. Since then, the founders launched ‘CNECTing’ — an online platform to provide mental-health training to the community — to reach as many people as possible in all facets of life, especially in challenging pandemic times.
The industry has also seen incredible support from longstanding institutions, as well as newly established businesses. Restaurants Canada has been instrumental in lobbying the government on an ongoing basis to solidify new liberties for restaurants and influence subsidy programs. These efforts have resulted in the province of British Columbia permanently allowing alcohol to be sold with takeout and delivery and allowing wholesale liquor pricing for restaurants, to name a few. Advocating efforts from other industry groups such as SaveHospitality.ca have also resulted in the inclusion of restaurant workers in earlier-than-expected vaccine phases, spelling a massive sense of relief for countless employees.
We hope to never again experience a pandemic of this nature, but it’s important to celebrate the positive aftereffects it has provided. While some of these initiatives are rooted in the current pandemic, others will have long-lasting, advantageous impacts. And either way, they’ve demonstrated a significant coming together of players in the foodservice landscape, which will undoubtedly result in a more unified, strong industry moving forward.
BY DAVID HOPKINS