9 Dec 2021
This week: If you’re in the restaurant biz, it’s crunch time.
That this is hospitality’s crucial trading period = massive understatement.
With the British government announcing a return to work from home, more masking requirements, and proof of vaccination to enter nightclubs – leaders in F&B are accusing Boris of “wrecking the hospitality industry.”
“Prime Minister Boris Johnson… finds himself in a steaming pot of fondue today,” reported Eater.
• “Hospitality businesses typically earn 40% of their annual profit between Halloween and New Year’s Eve, according to Kate Nicholls, the CE of UK Hospitality,” reported The Guardian. Nicholls has called for full business rates relief, grants, and rent protection to counter the effects of England’s move to “Plan B” restrictions and the impact on people’s confidence. With uncertainty swirling around the Omicron variant, reservations have sunk to their lowest levels in months and festive events are being canceled. “Hospitality has been waiting for Christmas, and if it’s not what we were hoping for, there’s going to be some casualties across the industry, including my places,” said chef-owner Damian Wawryzniak. In the U.S., more than 86% of restaurateurs fear closure is imminent without more government aid.
• Indoors or outdoors? That is the question. “The Cold is Coming. Will New Yorkers Still Eat Outdoors?” ran a headline in The New York Times, where local authorities are moving to make streeteries a permanent thing. Inviting vaccinated clientele inside to dine is the only option in cities like Milan, Berlin, and Paris. Will London soon follow suit? While the majority of Europeans are in favor of proof of jab to enter restos, 41% of Brits support the idea. From next week, nightclubs will be the first UK businesses to require a vaccine passport. “We were the first to be closed in lockdown, and the first to be dropped again like this. Stress isn’t the word right now,” said Manchester club owner Mo Mohamud.
• The night time economy is also suffering from major staff shortages. Worker welfare across hospitality is on the line – with a standoff at Manhattan eatery Carmine’s the latest in COVID confrontations to go viral. “The pandemic highlighted the need for a shift in attitude towards workers in the food industry – but what will that really mean?” wondered The Financial Times. In the UK, where labor shortages are a particular problem, the focus is on retaining good people. What does that look like? Restaurants are hosting staff parties, and offering benefits like access to mental health support.
“It’s an article of faith that if we look after our people, other things like revenue and customer happiness ultimately look after themselves,” said Shamil Thakrar of Dishoom.
We’ve often extolled the shape-shifting abilities of our friends in F&B – and the endless creativity and resilience they’ve shown in the face of repeated restrictions, lockdowns and reopenings.
• “After a tumultuous two years, restaurants are refashioning themselves as DTC brands,” reported Modern Retail. David Chang’s Momofuku is one of the businesses cited as shifting to a new strategy: the “goal of having 50% of business coming from outside its restaurants’ four walls.” “We know that 90% of our social audience live in cities where we don’t have restaurants,” said CEO Marguerite Mariscal. But to survive in the world of consumer packaged goods, it’s all about the right retail connections in terms of partnerships and distribution. “We’d be happy if more people knew us from the grocery aisles,” said Mariscal.
• Fashion and food also continue their power couple tendencies. Momofuku even partnered with Nike last year on a pair of Dunks. White Castle employees wear TELFAR-designed uniforms, Crocs x KFC, Merrell x Dogfish Head Brewery, the list goes on. Pioneering brand Patagonia – favored by tree huggers and tech bros alike – has actually been shilling snacks for years and recently launched a wine label.
• Specialty brick-and-mortar grocers that stock Insta-friendly DTC food and bev brands are also on the rise. So it stands to reason that there’d be a new marketplace on the horizon from Simon Beckerman, the creator of Depop. Delli, which is launching next year, “represents a full-brown embrace of the ever hazier divide between the dining room and restaurant-as-brand experience,” noted Eater. The premise? Gourmet goods in limited quantities released by indie brands and restos as “drops.” Delli is also looking to grow sustainably, not only in an eco sense, but also in terms of “building businesses that have people at the heart of it.”
“Another thing that came out of the pandemic is how much we valued local neighbourhoods and communities,” said Delli co-founder and chef Natalie Lee Joe.
Still trending: 44% of people are “purpose-driven” when it comes to food.
“The belief that the best way to fix our flawed culture is by spending more money in the right ways has given a boost to small food sellers, which offer alternatives to Big Food norms,” wrote Rachel del Valle in Eater.
So consider this our holiday appeal: spend your money right, show your local all the love.
Words by Amy Tai, creative consultant and native New Yorker now based in London.