The short-term impact of Covid-19 is already apparent, especially in Thailand where the virus has seemingly been brought under control, albeit at the cost of international tourism. The lockdown is over for now, and those F&B outlets which had previously been restricted to take-out only operations are now free to welcome customers once again. Sadly, many have not survived and will not be opening their doors again. Some of those who rely on foreign visitors see little point in resuming service while the borders remain closed. And those who are ready to reopen face a very different business environment to the one they enjoyed just six months ago.
Jean-Michel Dixte is the Global Vice President, Food & Beverage, for Dusit International. He is the man responsible for directing Dusit’s response to this evolving crisis, and the trends which are beginning to emerge today will play a major role in shaping his plans for the future. While he expects significant social and economic changes, there will also be opportunities to react positively and take advantage of some of the impending market shifts.
Healthy living with a conscience was already on the rise pre-Covid, and the pandemic has done nothing to turn consumers away from the idea of greener and more sustainable dining. “Growing local and buying local are two key concepts which have come to the fore in these difficult times,” notes Jean-Michel, “and with this in mind, I foresee a rise in circular economy business models and a resurgence of people ‘going back to basics’, using food as medicines (particularly herbs and vegetables), and learning to live without modern technology.”
“Following the crisis, I believe the vast majority of people will choose to fuel their happiness by leading healthier lifestyles – replacing any unhealthy eating and drinking habits they may have had with a better balanced diet. Home cooking and street food will be major facilitators of this change,” he adds, explaining that “F&B in hotels will start becoming more connected to local communities, especially street food culture, giving guests the opportunity to enjoy a genuine taste of each respective destination.”
In recent months, restaurants equipped to offer delivery have had a lifeline, while customers have become accustomed to a whole new experience, ordering meals online to eat at home. “Food delivery, convenience foods on the go, frozen meals, and dining kits will all be in high demand,” says Jean Michel. “With Deliveroo teaming up with Amazon, the Blue Ocean Strategy they adopt will dominate the food delivery sector.”
Many customers will find their finances adversely affected by the economic downturn which is now inevitable, and this will also lead to demand for more affordable cuisine. In this marketplace, Jean-Michel argues that “branding will become more important than ever – especially when it comes to cementing competitive advantage,” before adding that “branding will not only reassure people about the cleanliness and safety of a property, but it will also help customers to express their social and political viewpoints.”
He explains that “hotels and restaurants have always been strictly neutral when it comes to politics, but this is going to change, and branded restaurant and hotel companies will have to take a firm stand for what they believe in. Think increased transparency across the board – from supply chain and food origin, to social and political views. Consumers will be looking closely at their moral compasses, and they will only buy from brands they can trust and really relate to.”
When times are tough, businesses are less willing and able to spend freely, and this will probably result in reduced F&B investment as well as lower staffing levels. According to Jean-Michel, “Quick Service Restaurants and Fast Casuals will take over the standalone market, each featuring minimum layers of staff – and requiring minimal skills – but still providing decent dining experiences in their related segments.”
In order for hotel F&B outlets to survive, they will “increasingly use high-speed ovens, sous vide techniques, and other versatile cooking machines and methods that offer consistent levels of performance while simplifying cooking processes, allowing for smaller kitchens, and requiring fewer staff. Expediting such models will be the fact that sourcing quality staff will only become more difficult – especially for the mid-to-high-end segments. Younger generations do not want to do physical labor, at unsocial hours, for little money,” he predicts.
If this sounds like bad news for luxury dining, Jean-Michel agrees, suggesting that the high-end sector “will become super niche, with table service led by staff who are skilled, knowledgeable, and passionate about their craft, while Michelin star chefs will become affordable only by the 1% controlling the planet. High-end restaurants as we know them will become a thing of the past, remembered only by a few.”
It is abundantly clear that Jean-Michel anticipates a world where restaurants and diners will both have to adjust their expectations to a simpler kind of F&B experience, albeit one which might be more sustainable and more convenient. He points out, however, that “it’s important to remember we are now living in an experience-driven market in which people buy products or services to feel a certain way. Providing high quality guest rooms, food, and drinks is no longer enough. Customers want to live emotions; they crave experiences – especially personalized ones that will transport their senses to those different dimensions of happiness where indelible memories are made.”
He’s right, of course, and that is surely what F&B will try to deliver in the long run. It just might be tough for a while, and things might not quite be the same as they used to be.