How have adapting businesses in the restaurant sector fared during the pandemic?
The hospitality sector has been one of the hardest-hit, but eateries at different stages of their growth journey have pivoted to meet the challenges it posed.
Chantelle Nicholson is one of the leading voices in the UK’s hospitality sector, advocating for sustainability and circular economy principles through her culinary success.
She owns Tredwells, a restaurant based in the Seven Dials part of Covent Garden in London, which received a green Michelin star in 2021.
Tredwells originally opened in 2014, and Chantelle took sole ownership in 2017. She has since directed menus built around locally sourced produce, plant-based eating, and sustainable methods of production.
In this article, she shares her experiences of owning a restaurant business during coronavirus, and how it has changed her own view on what the hospitality industry needs to do to adapt in a post-pandemic world.
Pivot and offer new services
If you are a restaurant owner, coronavirus may well have forced you to pivot and change your business model according to the dining restrictions caused by the pandemic.
You may, for example, have embraced ecommerce to offer online ordering and delivery, which has become necessary for people stuck at home with a hankering for their favourite restaurant-quality dishes.
Chantelle switched Tredwells from its usual day-to-day service, events and private dining to an offering centred around delivering groceries and meals direct to customers.
“We did this from the 20th to the 27th of March 2020, and it was a huge amount of work for us, given we did it all manually,” says Chantelle. “Then, there weren’t any third-party systems that were quick and easy to set up.”
A year on, and Tredwells is in a much better position to handle deliveries, becoming more of a technology and internet-friendly business every day.
She says: “There have been some rapid and impressive innovations, meaning it is now pretty quick and easy to set up a third-party system to take orders and manage deliveries.
“We have used this for our at-home boxes since we started them up again, and it has made the whole process much more efficient.”
Keep your regulars in the loop
Social media is an excellent way for a restaurant business to keep in touch with regular customers.
Businesses that have maintained their social presence may have had more success over the coronavirus period than those that did not.
Using platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook has helped to keep their brand—and their food—front of mind for customers both new and returning.
With in-person promotional opportunities in short supply, Tredwells has found digital marketing and social media crucial in promoting its delivery services.
This has also helped keep the brand top of mind when they finally reopen, with their Instagram and Twitter pages regularly updated.
“We had the task of keeping the brand alive when nothing much is happening,” explains Chantelle. “Social media is a great lifeline, but it has made us have to think a bit more creatively to be able to have content to talk about.”
She’s also spent time strengthening current supplier relationships and forging new ones.
She feels the pandemic has brought the staff at Tredwells closer together as a team and is confident that will continue once the world opens up again.
Chantelle says: “It feels like we have all been in the trenches together and are now really looking forward to being able to enjoy doing what we are passionate about, and what got us into the hospitality industry in the first place.
“It has also afforded us all some time away from the constant pressure of the restaurant, another thing that some of us didn’t have much of before.
“We’ve been able to spend more time volunteering and supporting community charities, which has been a good way to get the team back together while doing some good.”
Expose your staff to different roles within the business
However, as the UK looks to make its way in 2021 with its vaccination programme and the gradual easing of coronavirus restrictions, Chantelle is eager to get customers in and the team back to doing what they love.
As with many other restaurants across the country, exactly how getting people in will work and what kind of experience Tredwells can offer is still open to question.
“It is a question of weighing it all up—the resource we have in terms of space, equipment, and the team—versus our overheads and projected revenue,” she explains.
“If social distancing continues for some time, it impacts the level of revenue. Pre-coronavirus, we could do around 700 to 1,000 covers per week.
“With social distancing, this dramatically reduced and meant we all, me included, had to diversify in our roles and do a lot more.
“For some people, this provided an opportunity for cross-training and also got them interested in different roles within the restaurant, which was positive.”
Create a better experience for your customers
Coronavirus may have forced entrepreneurs to really dig into their business models and practices and consider how they might need to change in a post-pandemic world.
You may have to change your core operations, but it could also offer you a chance to think about how your business could be more environmentally sustainable while keeping your costs down.
The pandemic has changed Chantelle’s plans for moving to a new location for the restaurant, which she feels is necessary for her desire to run a sustainable and regenerative business.
Instead of sitting on her laurels, she’s inspired to look forward and work on ways to be able to create a better dining and restaurant experience, for both guests and her teams.
Eventually, she would like a multi-faceted space that can function in a number of ways and embrace the wider community.
Chantelle says: “The time off reflecting has made me see what is needed in the world, and from a business perspective, which things are more pertinent and important.”
Chantelle’s top three tips
The past year was a year of learning for many businesses. Chantelle has shared her top tips based on those lessons with us:
1. Try and balance the financial pressure with the overarching principles of the business. Sometimes it seems to weigh you down, but it is essential to keep some perspective
2. Creative thinking is critical in all elements of running a business.
3. Don’t overthink things. Go with your gut feeling and if it does not work out as expected, be agile enough to change direction.
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