Rethinking restaurants

30 Apr 2020

In every challenge, lies an opportunity. No one knows this better than those at the forefront of hospitality, who are now having to find ways to adapt in the face of industry-wide disruption. For our new Under-Lockdown event series, we met with four entrepreneurs to find out how the food industry is coping with the crisis.

Our speakers included: David Abrahamovitch, founder of Grind, Rik Campbell, co-founder of the restaurant Kricket, Micaela Phillippo, Brand Director at BVC and Chris D’Sylva, founder of Notting Hill Fish Shop. Here’s what they discussed.

Making the pivot.

The event kicked off with a discussion on what changes our panellists have had to make to adapt to the current crisis. A quick pivot to delivery was one of the key ways they were able to survive. As Chris D’Sylva found when he had to build an online delivery service for Notting Hill Fish Shop in under 4 weeks: “Our delivery service was always in the pipeline, but it was made a high-priority because a lot of my customers are over 70 – it was about creating a system to deal with them.“ Similarly, David Abrahamovitch decided to move his attention from his coffee shops to Grind at Home, a coffee subscription service: “It’s now grown by 1500%, we’re shipping out 500 to 600 parcels a day.”

The Deliveroo debate.

One of the most widely used tools by UK restaurants and brands to expand their business is Deliveroo, but it divided the panel on whether it was a help or hindrance. Rik from Kricket recalled: “When we closed our doors and switched to delivery for four days, I was amazed at how quickly we got set up. The support is there is you want to do it, but the slice they take is big.” David agreed: “They take 30% of the profit plus VAT, the cost of goods is around 30%: that doesn’t leave a lot of money to pay your staff.” Chris cited the dynamic as the reason he didn’t use Deliveroo: “It just compromises experience.” This compromise was an issue all four speakers had faced, especially by Rick at Kricket: “As soon as you give your hot beautiful food to the drivers, it’s out of your hands. If it arrives cold people don’t blame the delivery driver they blame the restaurant.”

Funding and support.

For all hospitality businesses, keeping staff in their jobs was their immediate concern. “In the week lockdown was announced, we went from taking £100,000 to zero,” recounted Rick, “The fact is if the business doesn’t survive, the staff don’t survive.” With 300 staff member at Grind, this was a subject David was passionate about: “The two big problems in our industry are landlords and staff. On the face of it, the furlough system is amazing, but the people it was designed for are the people now suffering. There are businesses that are furloughing high-paid management consultants, so the government has said no to supplementing service charge - which is how most of our staff make their living. They need to reverse the decision, it’s an approved system, not a bonus.”

When it comes to getting support from landlords, David summarised: “It’s very complex. On one hand, I’m saying to our landlords that I can’t pay rent because the government has told me to close my shop, but equally, they’ve got their own people and mortgages to pay. Whatever solution is proposed it needs to run all the way up the chain. Hopefully, it might reset the relationship between landlords and tenants.”

Keeping your customers engaged.

The pleasure of dining out is rooted in physical experience, so continuing to evoke the same mood online is crucial for your brand. It’s something that Micaela had been advising her clients on: “There’s only so many times you can do a #tbt to when your doors were open. The key to this is remembering that behind every restaurant there are amazing humans. We’re all glued to our phones, so bring the audience into your home. Introduce yourself, your chefs, I’ve really enjoyed watching Instagram Live cooking. It’s about remaining optimistic and putting out positive content.”

Looking to the future.

The discussion closed with a look to the future, and how to best come out of the crisis. Micaela vouched that “Londoners are resilient and adaptable but it depends on the rules we’re going to have. There’s talks about shutting streets in New York to let people dine in the street two metres apart, but is there longevity in that?” With three closed restaurants, Rick disagreed: “Upstairs in Kricket Soho, none of the furniture can move. We can’t set-up two metres apart. We’re either open for business with serious hygiene measures, or we’re closed and furloughed. The hardest bit is still to come.” However, for those who haven’t yet opened a restaurant, Rik pointed out there is an opportunity: “I would still encourage people to get into the industry, they might enter an industry where rents are not sky high and the barrier to entry is a little bit lower. There are things to be positive about.”

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