The food and beverage (F&B) is currently in a pause mode, but will emerge stronger from this, believes Naim Maadad, founder & chief executive, Gates Hospitality.
Amidst the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, F&B outlets had to remain closed for almost a month from March 23 to April 23, 2020, only offering delivery services. From April 24, the Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management allowed a partial relaxation in the restrictions on movement in Dubai. It enables F&B outlets to remain open, but with reduced seating capacity at 30%, while maintaining a six-feet distance between tables.
In such circumstances, is it fair to say that the restaurant business, especially the predominantly dine-in concepts, is in a state of a bloodbath?
“I would like to perceive it a bit differently. Rather than a bloodbath, we are in a ‘pause mode’ now due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There is uncertainty over when we can change the pause mode to play. The pause mode, as I am calling it, is detrimental to business and will inevitably hurt the economy,” Maadad opines.
The upcoming six-eight months will be a difficult challenge to overcome; he feels. In any case, the summer season always has been known as a slow period for businesses in the region. “Even before the pandemic started, F&B, along with the retail industry, was experiencing challenges of reduced business when compared to previous years. Our market was over-saturated, and the population count was still minimal for the services available. The pandemic could not have hit hard at a worse time, and it took away business when the weather was at its best.”
“With unpaid salaries, job losses, salary reduction, fear and uncertainty being a norm across businesses, families are left with less disposable income to spend on dining outs, which is not perceived as a necessity,” Maadad continues. “With the pandemic, there would be a shift in behavioural patterns where people would prefer to stay home and spend more quality time with family, order food online or cook at home. Given the reality of the shift in consumer behaviour, all brands would need to re-align their focus on delivering the best of culinary experiences in the changed mindset. We will have to develop menus that fill the new vacuum and have the most creative hat on – day in day out!”
Commenting on the top three priorities to successfully stay in business, Maadad says, “Every bit of focus would be on the well-being of our human capital and business survival. We must get past the pandemic period with a minimal bruise. What we are fighting is an uncertain battle, we don’t know when a solution would be in place vide medical research, not forgetting the lack of social confidence that this pandemic has implanted on humanity.”
In such a situation, the three top priorities would be:
- Explore all opportunities in food deliveries through the Gates Hospitality mobile app to try and cover necessary costs, therein minimising the bleed.
- Work in arduous coordination with government authorities and respective stakeholders to explore avenues, which can support the industry to survive the pandemic.
- Continue being very active in communicating with the audience through updates, engagement, humour and informative sessions on social media platforms and give back to the industry and well-wishers. Essentially, build a bond so that the recovery phase has ardent supporters to hold hands and lift the business.
Moving over to restrategising recovery, Maadad – in the first place – admits being severely affected, initially due to the absence of trade and revenues, followed by phased reopening but with reduced capacity.
“The first half of 2020 is when the maximum impact of the pandemic will hit all businesses where the focus is to survive and mitigate any potential losses and eagerly wait for signs of recovery. When all this is over and done with, and businesses open, we will return to serve our guests, offering the best of dining experiences. What I mean is look for the light at the end of the tunnel. There is no doubt that we will come out stronger from this pandemic and we will get going again,” he emphasises.
“Hoping that authorities will weigh in and enforce rent-free periods, reduce fees by substantial percentages, minimise visa costs, shed utility expenses, slash taxes and VAT. It’s also essential to implement a ceiling on fees and aggregators charges and support the industry with a stimulus injection so we can reignite the spirit of genuine hospitality,” Maadad concludes.