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summary BY TOM TANNER
Foodservice operators that use the lockdown as a “slither of opportunity” to plan re-opening for business in a way that creates better outcomes for staff, customers and the planet will be the ones that come back strongest in the long term, said Andrew Stephen, CEO of the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA), in a webinar with HRC yesterday.
Restaurants, pubs, cafés and caterers that double down on the pre-Covid-19 practices that were having a damaging impact on the environment and society are unlikely to achieve long term success, he said.
The SRA’s recipe for re-opening safely and sustainability, would he said, be supported by exciting trends that have emerged out of the lockdown. The overwhelming majority of webinar participants welcomed the formula, with 97.7% of those polled saying they were willing to focus on environmental and social sustainability in planning for re-opening.
“By focusing on public benefit and customer demand for action on the biggest issues will be the way to differentiate your business,” Andrew said.
He continued: “We know the industry is under excruciating financial pressure and understandably operators are lobbying hard for a speedy return to business as usual for the sake of people’s jobs, for business and livelihoods. However, it is also an uncomfortable truth that business as usual for the sector far too often relies on poorly paid people, creates mountains of food waste and supplies too much salt, fat and sugar to people in food that denudes our planet and is partly responsible for driving the climate emergency and loss of biodiversity.
“What we are reflecting on is how to help operators not double down on that and externalise costs for the sake of survival. And we think that operators that do double down on that for the sake of survival are unlikely to do so for very long.”
During the 45-minute session, hosted by Soraya Gadelrab, Portfolio Director at Montgomery Group, Andrew Stephen outlined the five key ways for operators to Re-Open Right as:
- Doing it safely: Customers and Staff
- Rethinking where revenue comes from
- Rethinking supply chain
- Rethinking the menu – bearing in mind changing customer landscape and climate change
- Joining the climate movement
Operators need to realise that things aren’t going to return to normal quickly, Andrew said, and so businesses have to rethink their operation from the ground up.
Andrew encouraged operators to take advantage of the extensive selection of free resources available online from government guides to detailed manuals like Re-opening, a critical path for Independent Restaurants and Bars, by Oyster Sunday, which offers detailed and instructive step-by-step advice on the essential actions required to ensure a safe return to business.
Engaging with the available tech will be another important part of the solution, providing customers with safe and simple ways of pre-ordering for example. Azzurri Group have already announced that this will be a part of their offer when they start serving again.
Andrew said that while a restaurant’s menu was its frontline tool for generating revenue it often hides a number of issues that are negatively affecting the food system.
“We have an awesome opportunity to think about the menu not just in terms of margin and sales but if you’re reworking the menu for physical distance guidelines in the kitchen, then we encourage you to think about some of the key sustainability issues at the same time.”
A condensed, less meat-focused menu, built around ingredients that are local and seasonal that fit the business’ budget will also help to tackle food waste and reduce costs, he said
Connecting with Customers
Andrew outlined three key messages to communicate to customers.
- Be sure to let them know you haven’t closed permanently. As well maintaining a revenue stream, delivery and other modes of diversification are great ways of keep connected to customers
- Communicating the perception of safety will be just as important as actually practising it as polls reveal half of consumers wouldn’t feel safe eating out
- Building on the public’s renewed connection with food it’s going to be important for operators to communicate their food story
Andrew said: “We think there are some really interesting trends in customer behaviour and supply chains that might create opportunities for more sustainable models.”
The current hiatus does give operators the chance to reflect on their supplier base and forge new relationships with suppliers and provide a time to talk to suppliers, to find out what they’re doing on sustainability issues.
Andrew said: “As an industry, we have to increase the sustainability of supply chains and increase revenue from serving healthy and sustainable food. We believe these are the businesses that will be the most successful.”
Join the Climate Movement
Businesses that plan to re-open with a focus on public benefit as well as financial sustainability will be the ones to survive long term, Andrew said. He added: “By addressing customer demand for action on climate change and biodiversity loss then we’ve got the most resilient business that are going to stand up to the uncertain times in the best way.”
The SRA’s Food Made Good 50, a planning tool which takes ten minutes to complete, provides operators with an outline of what they can tell customers they’re doing on the big sustainability issues as well as a to-do list.
Participants were asked three survey questions during the webinar. The full results were as follows:
What is your biggest area of concern on reopen?
- Operations/logistics 36 votes (17.0%)
- Maintaining physical distance between customers 42 votes (19.8%)
- Lack of customers/financial insecurity 134 votes (63.2%)
- Finding suppliers/sourcing food 0 votes (0.0%)
Have you switched to a delivery/selling direct to customers model? If so, will you maintain it after reopening?
- Yes – we delivered during COVID-19 but will not after reopening 8 votes (5.0%)
- Yes – we delivered during COVID-19 and will continue 39 votes (24.5%)
- No – we did not deliver during COVID-19 112 votes (70.4%)
In planning for reopen are you willing and able to focus on your environmental and social sustainability?
- No, not at this time 3 votes (2.3%)
- Yes 128 votes (97.7%)
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