Packed cafés and share platters, keep cups and cash payments are just a few examples of what will need to change post-pandemic for food and beverage, says food ‘guru’ Suzee Brain.
Brain, the director of food consultancy Brain & Poulter, advises some of Australia’s largest shopping centre owners on F&B strategy.
She says the current health crisis will keep “all but the ‘bullet proof’ Gen Zs and millennials away from large places of social gatherings” like cafés, restaurants and food courts unless operators adapt. But so far, less than a third of Australian food service operators are ready for the ‘semi-normal’.
“We need to prepare for the ‘semi normal’ – where dining in resumes, but with enforceable social distancing measures in place and heightened customer expectations around sanitation.”
Brain says her team are already working with proactive landlords to implement hygiene protocols, physical and digital communications, social distancing measures, booking management systems, and takeaway and delivery platforms “to maximise every sales opportunity”.
During a period of high unemployment and reduced incomes, there will be too many food service outlets open for demand, Brain says, predicting that up to 25 per cent of all F&B outlets could close permanently.
The Restaurant and Catering Association of NSW found sales in March were down up to 35 per cent, and the figures for April will be worse, Brain says.
“To pay the rent, wages and food costs, tenancies will need to turn over at least 70 per cent of what they were taking before Covid-19. Not all will be able to do this – social spacing in a restaurant is costly – so we can expect further closures, vacancies and reduced lease renewals unless landlords help their tenants to re-engineer their business models.”
Brain & Poulter has been analysing consumer behaviour in Asia, Europe and the US, and “overlaying an Australian food lens” to pinpoint the habits that will remain post-pandemic.
“Habits formed during the crisis, like working from home, live streaming events, online socialising and delivery will all reduce footfall in shopping centres and CBDs.”
The 'new normal' will demand a rethink on food courts, share tables and bench seating, Brain says. Expect contactless payments, hand sanitiser on entry and ‘click and collect’ shopping to stay. Premium takeaway, currently a popular choice, will diminish “as recession bites”.
But Brain says there is a clear upside. “Shopping centres can emerge from the Covid-19 crisis as the new omni-channel marketplace”.
“With increased adoption of working from home, reduced working hours and online learning there is a potential ‘re-balancing’ of food hot spots from the CBD to the neighbourhoods and villages – and we are already developing some exciting new concepts for neighbourhood portfolios,” Brain adds.
“We see the purpose and role of shopping centres evolving, and for food offerings to become harmonious spaces that keep people connected with their communities.”