What will the new world of hospitality and catering look like, and how are you planning to adapt to those changes. Big questions we put to Ian Thomas, CEO, Bartlett Mitchell earlier today.
H&C News: You’ve held some workshops with stakeholders from across the sector, why did you feel it was important to bring people together?
Ian Thomas: “We are not alone in doing what we have done to date. This situation is something no individual or business has faced, so we know how important it is to collaborate to enable us to find answers to questions we’ve never actually had to ask ourselves before.
“As a business, we speak to a broad range of stakeholders on a daily basis. Each of these will have valuable insight and perspective they can share to enable all of us to plan and prepare for whatever the future holds. It’s then incumbent upon us to share this detail with all our clients, so we all save time and learn from each other.
“We are regularly speaking to our teams, our clients and our customers to understand what issues they are concerned about and how they feel we can all create a “Covid-Secure” safe and efficient environment to work from moving forward.
“Since the lockdown, many of the foodservice caterers have worked closely together as ‘frenemies’, to feed our collective thoughts into UKHospitality. UKHospitality have been a truly excellent voice for our sector and Kate Nicholls has really put our case forward to Government.”
H&C News: What is the current situation you are facing?
Ian Thomas: “More than 85% of our sites are currently closed. Given the recent guidance published by the Government and expect that there will be an increase in footfall within businesses starting from late May.
“Whilst these may only be at 20-30% of pre-COVID19 levels, we do expect numbers to begin to rise as companies and employees gain confidence to go back into offices.
“As a result, we have taken a number of steps to be able to offer services which are appropriate in the new working environments we will all find ourselves.”
H&C News: What services will be impacted the most once lockdown is lifted?
Ian Thomas: “Hospitality, fine-dining and events in workplace environments are likely to have the biggest reduction to begin with. Meetings and events will move online, and some clients are suggesting that they may ban visitors for 12 months.
“There are likely to be differences across sectors and regions. Our regional client sites will be impacted but far less than businesses in London, predominantly as people will be able to travel to work by car.
“We expect our regional and national contracts to return sooner than London sites, many are predicting the resurgence of business park premises, given ease of parking and open green spaces.”
H&C News: What sort of challenges will you be facing when lockdown is lifted?
Ian Thomas: “This period is going to be a ‘first’ for everybody, not just for us as caterers, but also for people returning to their workplaces.
“There will be a multitude of challenges we will all face as a result of having to work, move, behave differently.
“It is really important that we do what we can to communicate as much as possible with our teams and people within the buildings we operate.
“This communication needs to guide and advise, with the ultimate aim of giving reassurance and confidence to those around us. We have constructed companywide retraining almost like a new induction to every team member – including Wendy Bartlett and Ian Mitchell.”
H&C News: What does the future look like for the sector?
“We don’t believe we will see, client building occupancy levels rise much above 50/60% by the end of the year. To counter the low occupancy levels, we do expect much higher patronage with customers not going out from buildings and frankly wanting greater variety to their own home cooking.
“We are also aware that social distancing measures are likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
“While the sector does appear to be changing, we do believe that fundamentally people will always want and need food in their workplaces. Food and eating is an incredibly special glue that binds people and organisations; I don’t believe this will change. I also think contract caterers are more resourceful than many sectors, so we will evolve quickly.
“The future is very difficult to predict, however, we will continue to talk to our teams, our clients, and our customers, to ensure that we are all aware of the changes happening around us every day.
“This sector has become what it is primarily down to our ability to adapt and adjust to fast moving circumstances around us.
“We will certainly be moving more technology based, with our app for click and collect, pre-order/pre-pay, allowing customers to book staggered slots to visit the restaurants and coffee bars or even delivered options – this is an exciting evolution. Physical changes will include sneeze screens, single portion packaging, one way directional flow, and more instructional signage and floor stickers than we will have ever seen before! There will be a lot of solutions provided to ensure employees feel safe, are fed great food and looked after.
“Food offers will obviously change too, initially take-away focused, but also options that reduce customers having to move around their building, so more all day grazing box offers. There may also be broader opportunities are there may be an appetite from clients to help employees get their home kitchen staples from our BM “mini markets”- particularly for all the home bakers who need flour and yeast! Home meal replacement options will likely increase in popularity, but likely the healthier ‘cook yourself’ meal kits.
“We have already seen some fantastic examples of collaboration and innovation across our sector. Through this, we are sure that we will all create a new ‘normal’.”
We would like to thank Ian for an illuminating conversation, and look forward to doing the same again soon.
How meetings with clients and foodservice consultants shaped some of the planning Ian referred to can be seen here – Future workplace catering forecast.