The Omicron threat has hit the restaurant industry which was slowly bouncing back after the second wave in March and April last year, with the business down by anywhere between 30 percent to 60 percent. November and December last showed the promise of the industry getting back on its toes but the Omicron threat has now damaged the hopes.
The dent in consumer confidence is palpable amid growing restrictions on travel, drinking and dining. With cities like Mumbai and Delhi imposing strict new curbs like night curfews and limiting restaurant dining to 50 per cent to counter the third wave, a degree of pre-vaccine dread has crept back in. Restaurants of all stripes, from well-off multi-city chains to tiny artisan cafes, are feeling the heat.
With a bailout unlikely, it is probable that the industry will continue to wrestle with staffing issues, limited resources and ingredient availability in the coming months. The road to recovery is a long haul. But it’s not all gloom and doom. Optimism still reigns in the restaurant world, partly because of the reportedly low virulence of Omicron. Also, people are more prepared this time around. With a Covid playbook in place, the industry is in a far better place than it was a year ago. So while the Omicron is here to stay (at least for a while), there are few things that restaurant owners can think of to come out of the blues.
Navigate through uncertainties: While the revival process is on, the only way forward is to survive and thrive. Having learnt major lessons in the past two years, it's now much important to navigate through the uncertainties and mitigate risk. Making business decisions that can thrive through new scenarios and a new wave is now imperative. There is much opportunity that awaits in the sector and the future looks bright.
Through all its peaks and troughs, 2021 was a year of extraordinary Covid-19 learning. “There was a time when people were sceptical about even ordering food from restaurants. The next phase was for them to feel safe enough to dine in again. Today, people have accepted a new kind of reality of enjoying the dining experiences, but with norms set by restaurants. We believe this is how we will continue to evolve,” said Sameer Seth, partner Hunger Inc Hospitality that operate The Bombay Canteen, O Pedro and Bombay Sweet Shop restaurants in Mumbai.
Change of mindset: Restaurateurs need to understand that it is a new world and accept the pros and cons. Every stakeholder will have to do things in the right manner, be it suppliers, vendors, customers, as well as the government. Shutting down and restrictions will further damage the sentiments that will have a long term effect. Going forward, defined and strict SOPs should be formed and should be followed without further taking a decision of curfew, restrictions or shutdowns. The business owners along with the stakeholders should further learn to work with the changing business model and newer ways of increasing revenue.
Sharpen the knives: One opportunity, since business is slow and there is less inventory coming in, is to learn how to better manage food costs, potentially revamp the menu and widen margins. Check out the historic menu trends, popular dishes, and items that are more cost and effort than they’re worth. Trim down the menu before reopening the dining service and take off items that weren’t selling pre-Covid. Owners can take this time to also prepare for reopening and develop a digital marketing content strategy to hit the ground running when is ready to open doors. Create event announcement images or videos, redesign the website, or even test out paid advertising like Google to promote in-restaurant dining experience.
Look at employees’ wellbeing: Lives are important but so is the livelihood. Indian restaurant industry shrank 53 percent in the pandemic year. The tragic irony is people who work in restaurants and bars. The same people many well intentioned business owners are trying to support by staying open, are the most at risk. For those workers in the service industry who have kept their jobs, many say the conditions and pay have worsened. In such a scenario, taking care of employees wellbeing comes as a responsibility. The workers should be given a financial security.
Diversify business: One great way to keep the employees engaged and yet productive is by diversifying the current business. Many have already kick started their new innovations and projects. It can be changing the business model, looking out for a new location, moving cities, or even entering into another segment in retail.
If there's any silver lining to the situation, it's that Covid-19 has made restaurant executives realize they must adapt their operations. Many are ginning up new business models and adopting new technologies that will, they hope, make their businesses more resilient to future calamities assuming they survive this one.
Even Bengaluru-based Abhijit Saha, the founder of Ace Hospitality and Consulting, who had to shutter down two of his restaurants owing to pandemic induced uncertainties, remained upbeat about his latest launches, The Pet People Café and Glass.
Finding other revenue sources is the best way to offer security emphasizing job protection. Restaurants need to make sure that people who work in this field can still view it as an industry and not just as a hobby or a way to get to another goal.