How Food and Beverage Establishments can Beat COVID-19


08/19/2020

Is it time to draw on our primal instincts and survival skills? I mean we have been “forced” to stay put at home whilst the doors of hospitality, leisure and retail had been shut.

The food and beverage industry is no different, having dealt a heavy blow from the implication of the pandemic. Crossing the finishing line this year is going to be a grave challenge for most establishments, yet they will have to find the silver lining to be of service during the crisis and the opportunity to make money, to at least stay open for business.

During the circuit breaker (our version of lockdown) in Singapore, going to the supermarket and grocery store felt like winning the lottery, because that was basically the only time most of us got to leave our homes. It was common sight to see shelves decimated – it was no longer mindless shopping with a list, it was an extreme sport of seeing how much stuff you can fit into your trolleys or if you managed to grab the last pack of Maggie/canned soup. In was during this time we became accustomed to having ALL our meals confined at home.

COVID-19 gave rise to numerous trends; such as working from home, online yoga classes, stay-home TikTok challenges, Netflix etc. and this change in consumer behavior will also shape the course for the F&B industry moving forward.

Meanwhile here are my TOP 3 consumer behaviour trends:

  1. Cook and bake like Ramsey
    Looking online for food inspiration, building a repertoire of recipes, experimenting with new flavors or cuisines, this isolation has brought out the culinary guru in us all. In those hours of intricately measuring flour or sugar, you find pure bliss. At times, you want to get creative in this space due to preparing meals daily and not wanting to get bored. In other case, you might be able to recreate a “Michelin” dish at a fraction of the price compared to high-end restaurants.

  2. TGIF anytime at home
    We need our happy hour. We need to unwind. We need to break free from the monotony. Be it through bespoke offerings on DIY cocktails or cheap deals on cartons of beer and cases of liquor and wine, everyone needs to indulge in some entertainment and comfort in our own homes since we can’t head out. Even clubs and bars are coming onboard to set the mood with some “live” DJ jams and “quiz-nights” to compliment the booze.

  3. Online deliveries a lifeline
    This is an ultra-millennial thing. Which one of you reading this is capable of not moving an inch from your rooms and have things delivered to you instead? Well, I AM! All it takes is a minute, and your order is processed. You can even get food from the other end of Singapore without breaking into a sweat. Plus, if you are craving at odd hours into the night, or unable to ‘dapao’ (takeaway) due to bad weather, you’re covered. Simple.

So, how can F&B businesses survive this pandemic?

According to Ben Flintoff, General Manager, Baskin-Robbins Australia; “It’s critical businesses of this type investigate all the incentives and stimulus options to ensure cash flow is protected.” With COVID-19 greatly disrupting the global economy, many initiatives are in place to support F&B businesses and provide cash flow to keep them afloat."

In Singapore, the government has rolled out wage subsidy for employees, rental relief and tax exemption for physical stores, foreign worker levy waiver, digital transformation initiatives etc. in hopes to strengthen businesses and workers in Singapore to face upcoming challenges.

In Australia, the government is also helping businesses withstand the impact of the Coronavirus and encouraging an economic recovery into the future through wage subsidy, a safety net for companies facing financial distress, time-limited asset investment incentives, credit, loans etc.

All around the world, businesses should not feel like they are kicked to the curb to struggle but seek whatever relief measures are in place to support local enterprises smoothen and reduce the impact of COVID-19 for the short term.

Apart from claiming the Government support, when lockdown measures relax, some people choose to avoid crowds and eat at home causing a massive drop in physical footfall.


How then can you keep the wheels of business turning?

“If it’s relevant to your industry, home delivery, order ahead or pick up of your product may well add significant share to what was likely a small category in your sales mix,” said Ben.

Well, there has been a lot of creativity out there, some ideas looking for ways to support cash flow and continue with the business.

  1. Contactless delivery
    Transitioning from offline to online sales through 3rd party delivery (Foodpanda, Deliveroo, GrabFood etc.) which sees food left by customers’ doors and payments made electronically.
  2. Gift vouchers
    Bridging the financial gap between lockdown and renewed dine-in operations, customers can purchase gift cards in advance– often with an in-built loyalty discount or a complimentary drink.
  3. Operating hours
    With most people stuck at home, establishments can reduce their hours of operation and stagger their timings to peak hours.
  4. Pre-order service
    Just like reservations, customers can order their preferred food from the list of options; select their pickup/delivery times for their food to be ready
  5. New and value-added offerings
    There are no restaurant competitors right now, only partners in weathering the storm. Why not offer a ‘set’ deal with 2 restaurant menu options? Mix and Match the food you love

For example in Singapore , DBS has partnered with technology start-up Oddle, a new online food directory that connects directly with restaurants. Through creating a branded e-menu with integrated shopping cart, order management and payment gateways, merchants are able to establish a digital presence to reach online customers. Oddle helps coordinate merchants with logistics partners who wish to provide food delivery services. It’s system also provides analytics to help businesses determine the type of marketing needed for example pricing strategies and menu optimization.

Now, with all these said, there is a split between a desire to return to business as usual and those trying to reinvent themselves.


What are some marketing strategies to plan when the recovery comes?

According to Ben, “Stay connected with your guest database through social media will ensure you are top of mind when the time to revisit the precincts you operate in comes. Expecting an instant return to “how things were” is optimistic at best. Those companies who focus on reinforcing trust earned over the lifetime of their brand will be well positioned to springboard from this challenging period.”

Social Media is a definite must have tool in this age- several Facebook groups, including Singapore Restaurant Rescue and Hawkers United - Dabao 2020, have sprung up over the last couple of months, allowing restaurant operators and even hawker stalls to advertise their menus and delivery options. Though this channel, these eateries have even seen a huge upturn in business.

You can also provide value in a more light-hearted medium through Instagram for example. The Meme approach is unconventional but very popular to fit the interest of millennial customers, use relatable hashtags to spread awareness across channels, and create highlights of to inform your customers on the delivery methods available or teach your customers how to prepare some easy dishes at home.

So instead of continuing to post about your special offers day after day – be as a form of distraction from all the negative news. Excite your customers in having something to look forward and build a connection with your brand.


Conclusion

As much as consumer needs are changing during this crisis, providing options for the community to stay local and help you cope under the current chaotic circumstances is an excellent way to alleviate cash flow challenges.

I miss heading down to the coffee shops under the blocks and watching families chatting and old uncles drinking beer and complaining about life – that to me is soaking in the neighbourhood vibe. Yet I’m also enjoying the moments when the doorbell rings and a friendly face delivers all sorts of things - burritos, flowers, chocolates - I wouldn’t be surprised if a puppy shows up one day.

To F&B establishments, there is always Hope on the Horizon!



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