So here we are. The rollercoaster has completed (I hope) all its twists and turns for 2020 and is calmly cruising into the station. We can disembark and take a moment to ponder the loops, dips, corkscrews and speed hills that were endured with a mix of fear and exhilaration.
Well, that is my metaphor for 2020. I’m sure everyone will have their own version of course. It was a unique year on so many levels, there has been seismic shifts in the way we view the world, the way we work and the way we play. There has been massive winners and equally big losers.My prediction, and plan for that matter, for 2021 is a renewed focus on the art of hospitality. The level of technological embracement this year has been astounding.
Unlike any financial crisis we’ve seen before there’s been unprecedented government spending and frankly, any business that is online based has probably seen exponential growth. Even the hospitality sector, though many of us have suffered massive losses is a two-sided coin. Suburban eateries have boomed whilst CBD venues have gone bust.
Hospitality is an incredibly resilient industry. The reality is we start a new business every service, so we are always ready for the unexpected. Whilst this year’s version of unexpected was on a much grander scale that resilience shone through with more pirouettes than the 53-consecutive listed in The Guinness Book of Records. Take away, food boxes, home delivery and more all got a run.
As I look back on this amazing journey, I’m struck by how much has changed and with that change how much more we can do to ensure this industry continues to be a successful part of the community.
Simple things have come to be the normal. Credit card details to secure bookings will stay in perpetuity, removing once and for all the scourge of the no-show. In the time since we were allowed to re-open Fix Wine Bar + Restaurant, we’ve only had one table not arrive – in comparison to it being at least a daily occurrence.
Changes to the way people work and a shift away from the 9am-5pm mindset means more people willing to eat lunch earlier or later and not just a barrage of guests at 12.30pm. This gives our kitchen more time to focus on each dish and it’s been amazing the constant feedback from guests on how good the food has been these past few months.
Stay times have also come into the equation. Restaurant real estate isn’t cheap, the 4-hour lunch table is still possible as long as the participants are spending accordingly, but a leisurely sit on a glass of tap water just doesn’t make business sense anymore.
This increased focus on what the business does has other benefits. Smaller and more focused menus and wine lists and an understanding that the old staffing model of 50 to 60-hour working weeks just don’t belong in this industry anymore.Price points continue to be a sensitive area and will remain in 2021 whilst there’s an economic recession in play.
How will this all play out in 2021 is anyone’s guess. There’s going to be an ongoing shortage of staff for many years so venues will need to manage their bookings very carefully. Obviously every business wants to be full but with a lack of staff, capacity and full may be a different number.
Price points continue to be a sensitive area and will remain in 2021 whilst there’s an economic recession in play. The most effective counter to both capacity and pricing is multiple seating, which I hope will be embraced by the dining public a little more as they change their working hours to a more flexible model as well.
We’ve seen the Sydney CBD bounce back in December with people flooding back, mostly it seems to enjoy each other’s company for Christmas celebrations. There’s been a palpable joy as people throw off the tension of this pandemic and revel in the simple things. Just the act of shaking someone’s hand or giving them a cuddle has a new level of meaning after months of it being taboo.
I’m not sure that we will ever see CBD occupancy go beyond 70% of what it was in “The Great Before” but this may work out to be a good thing with a rental price correction long overdue.
My prediction, and plan for that matter, for 2021 is a renewed focus on the art of hospitality. The level of technological embracement this year has been astounding. Zoom meetings, working from home and online shopping have boomed. All of which provide amazing efficiencies and increased productivity, but they are also factors that for many can be isolating.
This is where I see hospitality’s future. Being the community hub for people to come together. Yes, quick-serve restaurants will continue to embrace productivity-enhancing technologies. Home delivery meals will also continue to grow but for those venues that can build community and give people a personal sense of belonging I see their future bright for a long time to come.
Signing off for 2020, I want to thank everyone for the amazing support that you’ve shown to us and all of the hospitality industry.
Have a fantastic Christmas and New Year!
First published on The Real Review December 2020