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  • Writer's pictureMW+CD

The CORONA ODYSSEY Restarting Gastronomy

Updated: Jul 28, 2021

( A brief overview )


Stranded at sea

Wave after wave of Covid-19 lockdowns and coping with the mental pressures of not being able to see the horizon

It is in these times one can feel alone, but it is also the time to band together and create valuable communities and partnerships that would have been less likely imaginable if it wasn’t for these imposed restrictions. Will these hardships breed a stronger and more resilient industry?

The problems of the profession and exploited image that have risen to the surface finally give us a chance to press the reset button and create a more employee-friendly based model?

Let's look at some of the good, the bad and the ugly points of what has happened and what may also come to fruition.

Circling birds of prey

Opportunists are waiting to pick the beaten bloody carcasses from the closing establishment's inventory and buyouts

The restaurant industry has always been about the survival of the fittest. Poorly run businesses usually weed themselves out, but over the last 18 months, we have been seeing rockstar businesses being put out of business that normally perform in the Champions League.

By no fault of their own, it's just the reality of the situation that a business which relies on a certain customer base and calculated price per seat is unable to function without welcoming guests through their doors. Some of these restaurants in pre-Corona times were booked out months in advance. How did this happen to these well-run and high demand enterprises?

A large factor to this is most restaurants operate on a shoestring budget making it month to month under normal operating parameters.

Now is the time to recheck your business plan and look at reinvesting a small percentage of the profits back into your business in the form of a rainy day fund to assure that you are operating with a comfortable reserve just in case.

Another fact was the slow and insufficient support from the government holding most restaurants in a form of limbo not able to decide to wether it out or close up shop.

Our industry defiantly needs the respect it long deserves as one of the largest employment sectors.

This also has become the right time for the industry as a whole to unionise and become a unilateral voice in the political arena bringing their focus on how important it is to protect the tourism branch.

Also to open the opportunity for entities to tap into government grants and culture programs because when one does think about a countries culture usually the first things that comes to mind are its ethnic foods, artists and performance arts.

This brings us to the point is it morally correct to haggle with the prices of the unfortunate liquidated companies and feast on the bargains that this pandemic has laid bare?

Well, I guess that all depends on where your moral compass points.

The Germans have a great saying for this “ you see everyone twice in life” so if you come across a bargain please don’t add insult to injury and haggle, just pay the amount asked and both parties can appreciate each other's situation during these difficult times.

A good gesture as it's commonly known in hospitality would be to give a small tip/gratuity on top of the asked price. It may be a small gesture for you but for someone down on their luck it defiantly will have a larger impact on their mental and financial troubles.

Strength in numbers

Collaborations: the talents coming together to save or open a new business

Even though in lockdown we have seen some brave individuals open new businesses maybe they are the lucky ones with the Midas touch or are there larger support networks and employee teamsmanship happening behind the scenes? Whatever it is we take our hats off for you.

Profit-sharing: fusing businesses or profit-sharing to hold talent and support businesses

If you have an employee with a key talent maybe it's time to offer them a piece of the pie and offer them a partnership that they get a small percentage of the profit.

This could be a great reward or loyalty mechanism to retain valued members of staff.

Also it could save you costly payroll increases and with the added motivation you could see larger returns on this investment as well as sharing the pressures of getting back on track.

Sponsorship and industry partners: either as a financial boost or adding great branded equipment/products to your arsenal a sponsorship/partnership can, when correctly agreed upon, benefit both parties

Brands need content and to be associated with a successful talent to attract new customers.

So if your business has been successful in the past you may be able to monetise all those blood sweat and tears you have shed over the years building your reputation and all those accolades and leverage a great deal.

Guru’s, good samaritans, and false profits

When marketers, consultants, and food influencers come knocking

When it comes to the so called food influencers demanding a free dining experience for a review,

yes some of these can add value through raising new customer interest. But most of the other parasitical self proclaimed gurus are just here to gain content for their own benefits and platforms.

Learn to value yourself/your business and if some food story writer that mainly reviews fast food, it’s probably not the right fit to bring you more customers for a fine dining establishment.

In my opinion when I am looking for new places to dine at, I am usually more inclined to trust chefs reviewing other chefs and I tend to value the opinion and reviews of industry professionals with years of experience. So in short a big NO to “guru’s” and an even larger YES to craftsmen.

When it comes to consultants who do you trust and who is going to dig you in a deeper hole?

Defiantly check their credentials and see if they deliver on what they say.

A good consultant may seem to be a large expense in the short term, but looking at the bigger picture all those years of experience might be the added boost to aid in a speedy recovery and optimise processes that may have previously let profits float through your nets.

Insult to injury

What is still to come…

Well, we strongly suggest making an appointment with your tax advisor immediately to discuss and evaluate the risks and pitfalls yet to come.

The tax returns in the following years after recovery will add the final blow to some of the ones that survived but are truly stranded and are unable to get their business back to the pre-pandemic occupancy levels.

Just when you thought the worst is behind you this hit may bring the final blow.

Defiantly check on those government relief payments, which depending on the rules of the country you are operating in could also be taxable or may even have to be repaid.

Exodus & Genesis, rekindling and lessons learned

Due to closing restaurants, let's look at the good and bad sides

Before Corona, new establishments were popping up everywhere stretching the potential customers’ dollar too thin over the cities unsustainable restaurant community.

Now during this Corona “culling” of the competition this will allow for the strong and adaptable to prosper.

This may sound harsh, but as in nature there is always a point of peak growth before we see a decline in the growth curve. This usually happens where overly saturated areas without a clear diverse spectrum of dining options detract from the potential patronage in the surrounding suburbs. For example too many restaurants offering the same product in the same area resulting in a homogenous, carbon copied style of dining.

One of the biggest problems in the restart stage is the culinary talent pool which the industry has tried over decades to stimulate.

The shutdowns and chefs being out of work forced international chefs to return to their port of origins. The Corona storm has left the restaurants stranded where they were staging or working at getting international experience.

Now, this has left the countries and establishments limited as the internationally sourced talent pools have seen an implosion as the diverse skilled labor sector has quickly evaporated.

Or will the situation change later after other businesses close, will we see a re-saturation on the job market if the potential competition decreases? Will the talent pool in the future increase or have certain individuals been financially forced out of our industry during these unstable times?

How to entice them back?

After all, they have defiantly burnt through their savings and are probably looking for an option closer to their home region where they have the support of their family and friends to get them back on their feet.

Some possible options could be :

  • A return travel ticket and help with the basic setup costs

  • Staff apartments where new staff can communally stay at no extra charge to the worker could be a win-win. For the employee, it takes the hassle of looking for a place, paperwork, costly deposits, set up cost and securities, and for the employer a fast track to replenishing and reforming your all-star team.

Is it time that high-performance restaurants invest in staff in ways that benefit both parties?

Empty tank, but a long stretch ahead

How do you repay staff when the financial tank is running low

Create a sided hustle for staff by developing your own products in a form of co-op. You and your valuable employees can all pitch in to create & produce a product and share the profits.

What we have learned so far

The main lessons learned are that restaurants and hotels need to diversify revenue streams and not just rely on bums on seats or bodies in beds

  • Takeaways ( ready to eat meals as well as menu boxes & recipe kits are a good idea to keep going)

  • Branding your own products ( get your restaurant's products in a store so they are earning revenue outside of your physical location.)

  • Pay it forward vouchers can be a plus or a negative, what happens when everyone turns up too uses them at the same time before the restaurant is back on its feet.

  • Online cooking demonstrations creating content to boost your social media presence and SEO rating attracting customers, sponsors & media.

  • The loyalty of business owners and workers how were you treated and how did you treat your staff, was there support given? Or did the staff take advantage of the business and what are the consequences and rewards?

  • The exposing of internal and external pressures of the industry and uncovering the real issues of mental health plaguing our profession as well as the formation of valued support networks and the acceptance of reaching out for help.

Land on the horizon

Some people may see these times in a negative light and that our industry has been devastated by the barrage of lockdowns and restrictions, but I like to look forward to the future and see it as a chance for us to make a difference and evolve from the old school ways of doing business and to find new solutions which will allow our industry as a whole to grow and prosper from the grassroots upwards.

Our industry is amazing and resilient, to compare it to a character it is defiantly Rocky Balboa getting constantly knocked down, but always getting back up to evenly aim for success.

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