“It’s really f***ed up right now,” That’s how Robert Egger, founder of DC Central Kitchen, summed up the current restaurant situation on our COVID-19 Virtual Strategy Summit. “I’m sorry dudes, but there’s no other way to put it.”
There’s no doubt that the coronavirus epidemic is wreaking havoc on the hospitality industry, decimating restaurant sales and forcing massive layoffs. So how can restaurants, bars, and catering services innovate to make it to the other side of the pandemic?
We tackled that question during today’s socially-distanced summit. In one of the first panels of the day, Mark Brand, a chef, B-corp owner, brewery manager, and professor (okay, overachiever), spoke with Egger to The Spoon’s Michael Wolf about how restaurants can innovate to stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic. Here are a few takeaways for restaurants that came about from the conversation:
Prepare for an uphill battle
Surviving as a restaurant, even in better times, is damn hard. Brand said that — in the very best of times — restauranteurs are making a maximum of 15 percent revenue on each transaction. “Folks think we have more money than we do as restauranteurs,” he joked. Therefore the vast majority of foodservice organizations don’t have a lot of padding to fall back on when their main revenue source, like in-house dining, suddenly goes away.
To survive, you must adapt
One of the biggest challenges facing restaurants is that there’s no blueprint to go off of. “A lot of people are making this up as we go,” Egger told the summit audience. That said, Egger and Brand had a few tips to help foodservice businesses survive the crisis. “The words of the day are ‘shapeshift’ and ‘break even,'” Egger said.
In short: restaurant operations will have to pivot to stay afloat, perhaps branching into new sales channels. Some foodservice spots are also offering purchase incentives, like a 1-to-1 donation where for each meal you purchase, one is donated to someone in need or a healthcare worker fighting COVID-19.
But no matter how many initiatives or pivots restaurants make, all they can really hope to do, Egger says, is break even. Hopefully that will be enough to help them make it to the other side of the coronavirus pandemic.
Another thing to look out for? A smaller menu. “I think there’s a lot of money to be made in a modest menu,” he said. Not only in terms of selection, but also pricing and serving size.
An opportunity for change
The panel wasn’t all doom and gloom. In fact, both Brand and Egger agreed that this crisis could actually help us transform our relationship with food for the better. “There’s a tremendous opportunity to reevaluate the restaurant structure,” Brand said.
Egger agreed, noting that COVID-19 could catalyze us as a society to prioritize our food more highly. “We can make sure that our food is sourced locally, workers are paid, and we can put together a healthy meal,” he said. “We’ll have a great sense of respect for food again.”
Here’s the full video below.