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The ‘new normal’: What might re-opening look like?

There are many things we don’t know the answers to right now; but what can we learn from other countries to help us better understand how the easing of restrictions will affect hospitality in Ireland? As part of #StrongerTogether, our initiative in partnership with Unilever Food Solutions, we take a deeper dive.

How long will restrictions last? How steep will the recovery be? What will the ‘new normal’ look like? No one has a crystal ball and it’s very difficult to make accurate predictions in the current climate. But as the likes of France, Spain and, above all, China – some of the nations worst-hit by Covid-19 – start to lift restrictions, we can look at the different stances they are taking in order to better understand how Ireland might be affected.

France, for instance, has announced that lockdown restrictions will start to lift from 11th May in a process of phased re-opening, starting with schools, colleges and nurseries. Good news for the general population, perhaps, but President Emmanuel Macron also added that restaurants, cafes and hotels would stay closed for much longer. 

To get a view from elsewhere across the world, our #StrongerTogether partner Unilever Food Solutions spoke to their Executive Chef representatives from Spain, North America and China to get their perspective on what’s happening – and what might happen in the near future.

Spain

“Restaurants and bars are currently dealing with the doubt of how and when their businesses will open and under what legislation. One thing seems certain – that hotels who focus on tourists will not recover this year, so they are starting to plan for the summer of 2021.” – Peio Cruz

North America

“This crisis has brought to the table a key discussion of what our industry should look like in the aftermath of Covid: can we use this situation to push a reset button and bring sustainability and making the industry more attractive to xhefs, investors and consumers alike to the fore.”  – Einav Gefen

China

“Following the relaxation of the rules, I have been out visiting customers around China and although restaurants are reopening, they are doing this cautiously. Customers temperatures are being checked at the door, there’s a ban on large groups and more spaced out seating is all having an impact on trade.” – Shiqi Xu

In a recent survey, Chinese consumers have also claimed that they will cook more at home in the future: 61% said that they would do so using more unprocessed, fresh ingredients too (1). When they do dine out, they are looking for safety assurances and guarantees of hygiene, with survey respondents putting safety at the top of their list of factors when choosing a dine-in restaurant (1). On a positive note, a fast return to normal is expected, with over three quarters expecting normal eating out habits to return within 4 weeks of re-opening (2).

What is clear in all of this is that operators will need to put strict hygiene measures in place in order to earn consumer confidence. In China, restaurants are disinfected at least twice a day and employees are required to take temperature measurements on a daily basis. Guest numbers are limited, with minimum space requirements between customers. Technology is also playing a greater part, enabling contactless ordering and payment.

But what about menus? China has reported an increase in meat alternatives appearing on menus, as consumers look to lead healthier lifestyles. Whilst this increase is in line with the global trend for plant based food, the Covid-19 crisis has arguably expedited the uptake. 

Trend forecasting agency WGSN has also predicted an acceleration in demand for plant based, putting the shift down to lowered consumer trust in meat products (3). For restaurants, this is an opportunity for chefs to show consumers the possibilities of cooking with plants.

Of course it still remains extremely difficult to make any firm predictions around re-opening timescales, restrictions and consumer behaviours. What is clear is that there will be a balance to strike between too soon, risking a second spike in the virus, and too restrained, putting hospitality businesses in even greater jeopardy. 

The future is uncertain, but as a community and industry we are #StrongerTogether.

Sources:

  1. OC&C Restaurant Consumer Survey March 29, 2020; Desk Research, OC&C analysis
  2. After COVID-19: Food Service Sector, OC&C Strategy Consultants, March 2020
  3. WGSN Covid 19 Food Change Accelerators, March 2020

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