The hospitality sector is at war with Covid-19, which is fundamentally changing the way the world works. Though closures might only last a matter of weeks, the impact will be lasting, and in times like these, leaders talk about hearts and minds.
Winning the hearts and minds of the public has always been a tactic for the industry; after all one could argue it is the very definition of hospitality. Its importance runs through all aspects of the experience – from attracting guests in the first place, to pleasing them during the event itself, to retaining goodwill and harbouring loyalty thereafter.
But it doesn’t stop there. Even now, during industry-wide lockdown, the saturated market creates a relentless barrage of competing voices jostling for the customer’s attention. I wrote recently about the amazing ways in which operators have adapted to this enforced change, innovating to protect their business and employees, and keeping the industry afloat. It is clear that, in this battling atmosphere, restaurants are no longer able to ‘tempt’ or ‘entice’ – the rules have changed, and they are again proving nimble enough to maintain interest in their brand.
The key now seems to be taking culture and community spirit right into the homes of loyal and potential customers. Engagement in this is more than you typically find on social media, it is more immersive and brings customers into the restaurant experience – the skill of the chef, the imagination of the entrepreneur, the craft of the mixologist – without leaving your four walls.
Right from the top of the culinary tree, Tom Aikens and Jason Atherton are offering live cooking lessons, demonstrating the home-cooked meals they eat at their own kitchen tables. Tom Kerridge has started a series called “Lockdown Dinners”, and the likes of Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing are sharing recipes for people to cook easily at home. Even Michelin star chefs are not resting on their laurels, understanding just how crucial it is to remain at the forefront of people’s minds. We’ve never been so close to these foodie celebrities.
If you want to learn how to bake, Bread Ahead have you covered; one of many offering structured online baking lessons. Live masterclasses are reminding viewers of kitchen expertise, whether it’s pasta from regional Italian food specialists Officina 00, or yakitori from Japanese small plate restaurant Jidori. There are even lessons in growing herbs, courtesy of Honest Burgers, famed for their rosemary chips; and Quo Vadis have run a live martini demonstration, also setting up a Zoom meeting for the cocktail-makers among us to share a quick cheers.
If we take the community spirit further, a raft of operators are taking meals directly to the vulnerable and our present day heroes, the NHS workers. Pizza Pilgrims has been delivering endless boxes of pizza to University College London hospitals; Rosa’s Thai Café is serving fresh food to Homerton Hospital; and the team behind Le Bab has launched the London Restaurant Cooperative, opening their kitchen as a non-profit space to employ recently unemployed hospitality staff, with the option of buying a meal for hospital staff.
Again, in the battle against the impact of Covid-19, the hospitality sector raises its game to win the hearts and minds of the stay-at-home public.
Ted Schama is managing director of Shelley Sandzer