Over the last year and a half, the restaurant industry has been handed numerous blows as a result of Covid. From the mandatory shut down of restaurants to delivery only, to no serving of alcohol, to early curfews – restaurateurs have had plenty of obstacles to navigate.

As part of the Insiders Club, an initiative through which McCain Foodservice Solutions provides the restaurant industry with access to the latest industry trends, business tips and resources, the company recently hosted a roundtable discussion with industry experts. The discussion, facilitated by much-loved media personality and successful restaurateur, Maps Maponyane, focused on systems and ideas ultimately needed in order to keep the restaurant industry afloat and successful post Covid. Maps was joined by esteemed panelists Grace Harding, the CEO of Ocean Basket; Daniel Goldberg, Co-Founder of Fintech company, Bridgement; Tessa Purdon, Head of Content at two of South Africa’s largest food publications, and Catharina Bester, Marketing Manager of McCain South Africa.

Maps shared his personal experience and hardship in the restaurant industry. His burger joint, ‘Buns Out’, had been open for merely five months when Covid hit, and they went from pumping on a daily basis, to a grinding halt. “Post lockdown we literally had to start over again, from scratch. However, in a way, lockdown was an opportune time for myself and others in the industry to futureproof our businesses for the unknown. It was a time that certainly made me realize that if I can emerge from that, I have the ability to run an amazing establishment, due to the work that I had to put in during the hardest of times. And I think that this rings true to most of us in the industry”.

An interesting insight shared by Catharina Bester is that through McCain’s research done with Kantar, it has been established that post lockdown, people will still continue to make use of take-out options, despite the recovery of the sit-down restaurant industry. “It is therefore imperative that restaurants provide food that travels well,” said Bester. Small steps need to be taken in order to achieve this, such as using french fry chips that are coated in order to ensure that they remain crispy, or preventing condensation by putting a serviette underneath the box to absorb moisture. Or, if a customer orders a piece of meat cooked medium, send it slightly less cooked as it will continue to cook whilst travelling to the destination. It’s these minor efforts made by restaurants that make a huge difference to those consuming the food,” explained Bester.

When the discussion was around adaptation and the new trends that eating establishments have seen, Grace Harding shared that it’s all about the need for industry players to connect and share. “Covid has been unforgiving from a health and business perspective, it has highlighted the weaknesses and gaps in businesses, especially sit-down eating establishments. Sit-down has always been behind when it comes to technology and modern business practices. What we have learned is the absolute necessity of adapting to modern business thoughts, being more efficient, and managing people differently. Covid simply accelerated trends which were already on the periphery; for example off premise dining and deliveries,” said Harding.

Another point that was agreed upon by all panelists, was that despite the fact that food delivery has grown exponentially, sit-down dining will always exist and be desirable. Tessa Purdon advised that restaurateurs should go back to the basics and streamline their menus, not only because a smaller menu is easier to execute with a smaller team of staff, but also because it allows restaurants to really focus on the dishes that they’re known for and do better than their competitors. A skimmed down menu also means that there’s less food wastage and inventory levels can be reduced, which is helpful if doors need to temporarily close at a moment’s notice. According to Purdon, “Pairing down a menu doesn’t mean changing what you stand for, it simply means highlighting what you’re great at”.

According to Dan Goldberg, the Co-Founder of Bridgement (a Fintech that offers simple finance to small businesses across South Africa), the main challenge that he has seen for restaurateurs has been around cash flow. Suppliers now want upfront payment, landlords are looking to recoup, customers are spending less, and banks are no longer offering payment holidays. So the question is, should additional funding be taken out? “It’s definitely an option, but not always the answer,” says Goldberg. “It’s important to be cautious. If you’re already under financial pressure, additional funding may accelerate these problems. However, if there’s a plan in place, if things look positive going forward, and if the funding is merely to bridge the gap in cash flow, then it’s a great solution”.

A sentiment which was agreed on by all, is that although the insights shared were incredibly valuable, restaurateurs need to be educated on how to implement these changes, and focus on the thinking that drives the execution. That’s what the Insiders Club exists for. There’s a wealth of information and advice from industry experts who truly do care. In order to sign up to the Insider’s Club, simply register at this link