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Brody Sweeney, the founder of Camile Thai Kitchen in the UK, predicts how the vaccine will change operations in 2021.
What does a vaccine mean for the restaurant industry?
This is the question on everyone's lips at the moment.The news of various Covid 19 vaccine roll-outs was a welcome relief to dine-in restaurateurs that were unable to sufficiently ramp up a delivery strategy in 2020. For those who were already invested in a delivery-focused model, many owners are wondering if the growth achieved in 2020 can be sustained once consumers return to dine-in.
Though vaccine rollouts have begun, Goldman Sachs predicts that it will be at best Autumn 2021 by the time any meaningful and sufficient penetration of the vaccine has been achieved on a global level.
Planning for the future brings up some big questions.
What will the new normal look like? How can restaurants be ready to ensure a smooth transition to it?
Few have answers to those questions. But from our vantage point, businesses must remain agile enough to pivot back in the event of any further setbacks. Some businesses will ping back quicker than others to pre-Covid norms — think Copengahen's Noma, for example, which has returned to fine-dining after wintering the pandemic as a burger stand.
Below are five considerations to make when planning for next year.
1. Dine-in business splitting in two
We see the dine-in business splitting into two. The functional early part of the week business (Monday to Wednesday), will remain as difficult as it always has, as consumers increasingly will choose to have that meal at home in front of a screen. The second and most important part, the "treat eat" Thursday to Sunday has every chance of bouncing back, as customers crave the experience of celebrating and breaking bread with family and friends.
The vast majority of dine-in businesses will need to go back to the rudiments; re-examining business models, property strategy, menus and pricing. Customers returning to dine-in will be looking for that restaurant experience they have so missed during the pandemic, so smart restaurateurs will make sure the experience lives up to expectations. For many previously exclusively dine in restaurants, they will have seen the new opportunities that delivery has presented, and build delivery into a future business model
2. The jury is out on clouds kitchens
For those with a primary delivery model — technological solutions that could help ensure efficiency — while still delivering on customer experience will come to the fore.
Other areas to consider are the very fashionable cloud kitchens and virtual brands which enable more flexibility. We think the jury is out, as to whether it is possible to earn sufficient return from a high variable cost cloud kitchen unless high turnovers can be achieved.
Virtual brands are enjoying a huge moment, and we believe will be a major part of brand strategies in 2021. Research on the consumer side has proven that consumers are not concerned if a brand prepares their meals from a traditional kitchen, or from a cloud/dark kitchen. Virtual brands are something that restaurant owners should consider as a viable option in 2021, one that allows them to quickly and cost-effectively pivot and test out new menus. Virtual brands have allowed us to spin-out new successful brands, in a quick, effective manner, allowing us to stay relevant in our local market by adapting to new food trends.
3. A flexible property strategy?
A flexible property strategy is another important factor to consider in 2021. At Camile, we have a mainly delivery-based model, which allowed us, thankfully, to enjoy significant growth in 2020. Our strategy is extremely flexible, in that we operate from full-service dine-ins of 2,500-square-feet locations as well as suburban delivery-only outlets of 400. A delivery focussed model meant that while many businesses had to close their shutters due to government restrictions, we were able to continue to operate as normal even while our dine-ins were shut. Seeing the value in this, we adapted our franchise model to offer other business owners a flexible off-premises model where they could quickly reopen their shuttered kitchens. We've seen a huge appetite for this kind of service, which confirms to us the need among owners to have solutions that enable them to pivot quickly along with what is and will remain a very fluid situation for the foreseeable future.
4. Delivery can't replicate the dine-in experience
At the core of securing 2021 growth, however, comes the need to really consider the customer at the heart of everything, and with this, I mean the need to deliver a meaningful dining experience. Customers come for the food, but they stay for the service, and in 2021 this will be a real concern for delivery businesses as consumers return to dine-in.
Competing with dine-in will present obvious challenges in this respect, but it is not impossible. In 2021, for delivery businesses, every step of the ordering process must be seamless, from the app experience to having a solid delivery process in play, to ensuring delivery staff represents the brand in a positive manner.
5. What about tech?
Tech plays a bigger role in ensuring stellar customer service more than many realise. Consumers are turning to tech to get the food they want when they want it. Delivery brand owners should seek out every opportunity to optimise every aspect of their processes from kitchen to doorstep. This includes tech solutions that enable them to optimize kitchen capacity with robotics, to finding optimized ways of getting food to people in the right time in an innovative way, such as with drone technology.
We were first in Europe to deliver our food by drone this year, and the response from consumers has been hugely positive. Delivering novel delivery experiences will be what keeps consumers coming back for more.
Serial-entrepreneur Brody Sweeney is the founder of Camile Thai Kitchen, which has36 locations, including six in London.