Unlocking the F&B Sector

An ambitious person, Mihir has a razor sharp focus on consumer satisfaction and has closed multiple transactions in just four-year of his stint as an investment banker.

In all honesty, the F&B sector has not only always fascinated me but also intrigued me because of the numerous challenges that businesses in the industry face. From a consumer perspective, ‘roti’ aka food is the first element in the need hierarchy (I am sure you would have heard the famous roti kapda aur makaan quote) and hence, building a business in this space can be seemingly easy yet a daunting challenge. From a product perspective, food entrepreneurs need to ensure a perfect score on aspects like quality, consistency, and diversity every single time, in a highly subjective and ever-changing consumer behavior ecosystem.

As a result of the lockdown imposed in the wake of COVID-19 outbreak, the F&B sector has undoubtedly been one of the worst impacted sectors and the fear of this virus is real and hence, the fear psychosis makes it difficult and uncertain to pull demand as usual. Now, as the Government of India is taking baby steps to reboot India and have initiated the unlock 1.0 phase wherein F&B outlets that had been gathering dust will also see the daylight, it is essential that this unlock phase becomes an action-oriented & robust trial run to rebuild and sustain businesses in the new normal.

It is an established fact that the outbreak of this pandemic has brought about some long-lasting changes in consumer behavior wherein traits like acute attention to hygiene & sanitation, digital savviness, do-it-yourself have seen considerable surge. In order to leverage this unlock phase, I have mentioned some thoughts for the F&B sector below -

The idea is to adopt practices that are centered around adequate social distancing, personal hygiene maintenance by staff, effective communication among others

One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind - These are iconic words. Though the magnanimity of this event may not match the significance of Neil Armstrong & team landing on the moon, it definitely is a massive moment for the F&B sector because the normal has been redefined and the challenge is to orient the business in this new normal. Hence, the important thing to remember is that restaurants/F&B outlets have to focus on creating & implementing SOPs that will cater efficiently & effectively to the new normal. At this time, the focus should not be on garnering high demand, promotions and others, but it should be looked at as a trial run that is here to enable businesses work on their operations and focus on winning the trust of its customers. The idea is to adopt practices that are centered around adequate social distancing, personal hygiene maintenance by staff, effective communication among others.

Go as contact-less as possible - Whether one looks at this as a one-time investment or expense is a matter of perception but in my humble opinion, F&B sector should be heavily focused on building tech prowess at this time so as to go as contactless as possible. Across the media, the speculation is that a proper vaccine or cure for Coronavirus may come in by the end of this year and that means around 6 months from now, in the least and till that time, fear psychosis is bound to prevail. In order to mitigate this fear/hesitation, restaurants have to invest in efforts that are oriented towards minimizing contact by adopting technologies like digital menu & ordering, cash-less payment, online feedback mechanism, and more.

Effective communication - Another important aspect that restaurants need to pay attention to is effective communication of their policies and measures taken to follow guidelines issued by government & civic bodies. The best tool to make this possible is by creating videos of dine-in experience (of course with relevant permissions), preparation of food & sanitation maintenance, off-duty maintenance and others. The same should be disseminated to existing patrons, social media handles, food groups etc. Additionally, novel concepts around table arrangement, waiting areas, bar counters etc. that prioritize social distancing, minimal contact with staff & customer comfort, will go a long way in raising customer trust.

If I can be candid, some of the thoughts I have shared above, may not be new to restaurateurs and as this unlock phase sets in, everyone is eyeing strong recovery. And, that's where the caveat is! In a bid to fasten the recovery process, entrepreneurs may lose sight of procedures that are ultra-critical for sustenance and that may have irrecoverable downside implications. To rephrase a famous quote, don’t stay hungry but stay cautious.