Covid-19 as an acceleration in the hospitality industry.
Our founder, David Claeys had some time to reflect during the Christmas period. As he is the owner of Otomat as well, 2020 was a challenging year for all those involved in the catering and hospitality industry. In this new Digest blogpost, David looks back & ahead, giving his interesting opinion and view on the covid-19 crisis in the hospitality industry.
Covid 19 is not the game-changer when it comes to the hospitality industry ... it is at most an acceleration of what was already going on!
We agree that after this sanitary crisis we will enter a completely different catering landscape. But we don't agree that all this is because of Covid-19! Mostly thanks to, and then again because the largest lockdown in our society since WWII, all the ongoing changing practices in the hospitality industry. There will certainly be a number of cases slipping out of our fingers, but this period will also ensure an acceleration towards professionalization in the sector. It will be the latter that will greatly advance the sector in Belgium. Year 2020 was therefore a turning point for the Belgian catering sector in many respects.
Image: David Claeys at true.
We were pleasantly surprised this year because of the incredible creativity that has been displayed by the industry in general since March 2020. Take away, delivery, social media, the field of action has partly shifted and showed the enormous resilience of the sector, which makes us believe more than ever that catering is and will remain irreplaceable! Even ‘fine-dining’ found its way to the take-away and delivery field. They played the field because they wanted, at any cost, to continue to serve people. It is their profession, their reason for getting up every day! They encountered a different challenge: giving the people ready-to-serve dishes at home that are not complex but still very unique. This is in addition to what they normally do, not as a surrogate! In our opinion, this is only a temporary phenomenon and "fine dining" within the walls of a restaurant is more common than ever!
Image: Lewis, Antwerp.
We’ve certainly learned in the past twelve months that covid-19, in many areas, was a warning and professionalization check! The banks were, to a certain extent, a good discussion partner, especially if there was a good relationship before the crisis and you were working on a positive story. If you could demonstrate exactly how big the impact of the loss of sales was and how and what your forecasts are for the period post corona, we got the feeling that it was possible to talk to banks. Nevertheless, banks have traditionally remained very reticent despite the enormous support and buffer that Europe had provided for them and that’s how even well-run restaurants can still struggle.
Cafés have a more difficult story in this crisis and get labelled as the biggest victims of this covid-19 crisis. This because of their specific economic character: lower daily turnover, less official character, so often no history to refer to in eg. talks with banks or for state aid. VAT reduction on alcohol could help them a lot to get out of the trough on a restart, but the shake out in the sector is somewhere inevitable and was coming anyway, even without covid-19. The Belgian catering industry is quantitatively too spacious.
A short comparison comparison with the Netherlands:
NL has approximately 68.5K business with 17.28 million inhabitants (= 68.6685 to be precise), Belgium with 11.3 million approximately 59 K businesses (= 59,197 to be exact) For NL, this is 1 catering business per 250 inhabitants, for us 1 in 200 Belgians.
If we want to follow NL, which according to many would be economically healthier, this would mean for Belgium: 44,841 cases .... which means 14,300 fewer catering establishments!
Image: Marnixplaats, Antwerp.
Apart from Covid-19, we do know that catering establishments with the most organization know-how are more likely to survive. Those establishments who start from a realistic business plan, which does not sail blind because of the lack of almost real time data. It is precisely those things that chains and formulas already did well before this crisis and that will continue to benefit from them even more in the future. The small, less organized catering industry can learn the necessary lessons from them. Knowledge sharing between catering businesses could be a step in the right direction as formulas and chains also need a good neighbor, smaller players, but above all a healthy competitive field. The reintroduction of that business reality must mainly start with the training of every hospitality entrepreneur in Belgium.
At this point, aspect and the role of a good business plan is missing. What is a good P&L? What are the different healthy ratios in here? A good thing is that you now have to submit a solid business plan when establishing a new company, the disadvantage is that you no longer have to put start-up capital on the table.
Due to Corona, there was an acceleration in the use of the digital. Webshops and ‘click & collect’ buttons where de most popular installations during the lockdown.
Back of house, this digitization mainly translated into grouping orders via ordering platforms, business analyzes, centralization of recipes, food cost calculation, menu engineering.
Front of house, this often meant pre-visit registration and even pre-ordering for the guest and in the business itself ordering modules, so that the ordering could be done faster. The data that all this yields can now be used more quickly to the business, 'real time', but will also be used to be able to serve more and more personalization towards the guest.
Image: Jean sur Mer, Antwerp.
What we have to take into account from the past 12 months, is the fact that for future critical events with such an impact, we must sooner form a front as a sector. Something that has not yet been achieved and is a missed opportunity. A co-creation between operators, wholesalers and manufacturers, a kind of "war-catering-cabinet" which, in times of crisis, could be a good discussion partner towards the government.
We also believe it is more than appropriate to list the biggest lessons from this crisis and to record them in a kind of scenario that we can use in the event of a next, similar calamity. Under the title "never waist a good crises", we are working on such a reference work together with horeca.next as true. (More about this in a next digest….) Because the biggest loser of this stand-still remains the many guests, who will have missed us for more than 7 months. And we must avoid that loss at all costs in the future!
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