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The London restaurant industry has had a tough time since 2020. The challenges of COVID-19 are evolving and restaurant owners have had to evolve with them, but many are unsure how to ensure success in 2022.
Restaurant entrepreneur Ryan Bishti has some advice for London’s restaurant owners. Bishti is no stranger to overcoming pandemic-related challenges in the restaurant industry. His newest restaurant, The Windmill Soho, opened in July 2021 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and is still thriving today. Likewise, his Knightsbridge restaurant, Restaurant Ours, opened during the pandemic despite the many changes the restaurant has had to adapt to over the past two years. Despite the challenges, both restaurants remain open and continue to serve guests. Their success relies on four key components that Bishti recommends restaurant owners implement to thrive in 2022.
#1 focus on the consumer
Every restaurant knows that customers keep the doors open. But COVID-19 has greatly reduced consumers’ desire to go out to restaurants; many feel it is dangerous and an unnecessary expense to do so.
To address consumer safety concerns, restaurant owners must take steps to increase consumer confidence in their restaurant safety. For example, displaying COVID-19 precautions taken by door staff and on social media can alert consumers to a restaurant’s commitment to safety.
When it comes to persuading consumers to eat out, think of their reluctance to do what they might see as an unnecessary luxury. Bishti recommends giving them a reason to return to the restaurant. Remind them that restaurants can provide a space for connection and delicious food that a home cannot – exclusivity sells. The less crowded, more intimate environment resulting from COVID-19 seating restrictions and table arrangements can work to a restaurant’s advantage. For example, servers can learn customer names and create a warm culture that encourages consumers to return for the friendly staff, intimate atmosphere, and quality cuisine.
#2 Invest in your people
A significant problem facing the hospitality industry is a dwindling workforce. To keep restaurants thriving in 2022, Bishti notes that investing in staff is a must. But how does a restaurant keep staff when the cost of food, utilities, and service continues to rise? When possible, providing better wages and benefits will help encourage workers to stay. However, the reality is that workers are more likely to quit for reasons such as poor management and job stress than because of wages.
One of the top reasons restaurant workers leave the industry is mistreatment by consumers and management. Restaurant employees often need to enforce COVID-19 regulations and restrictions, so it’s critical that employees feel empowered and confident in implementing policies and mandates. One of Bishti’s suggestions is to give employees a clear hierarchy of actions and commands to refer to when a consumer situation escalates. The hierarchy should also provide instructions to employees on what to do when management fails to follow policies or abuses employees.
Burnout – from excessive hours, abuse and/or low pay – is one of the top reasons employees have left the restaurant business. Restaurant owners should create a workplace that nurtures and develops happy, skilled employees. Reducing stress by having enough servers and ensuring time off for sickness and private days shows employees that they are valued in the workplace.
#3 Rethink restaurant space and service area
Space is critical to the success of a restaurant: the larger the space, the more customers a restaurant can serve at the same time. Unfortunately the COVID-19 restrictions have severely reduced the capacity of many restaurants in London. Ryan Bishti predicts that success in 2022 will depend on a restaurant owner’s ability to adapt their space and service area to the times.
Restaurant owners should start using the outdoor space. UK licensing laws remain in flux as the government allows restaurants to use terraces and outdoor seating areas to serve customers. Restaurant owners should take advantage of the streamlined licensing process introduced as a result of COVID-19.
To double customer reach, Bisti recommends offering a pick-up or delivery service whenever possible. Consumers who want to eat out less are often more comfortable with takeout, and delivery services can help boost sales where seating restrictions have led to cuts.
#4 Support local agriculture
Grocery costs continue to rise as supply chains struggle during the pandemic. Restaurant owners know this better than anyone; Fearing losing customers, many of them find it difficult to raise prices or bear the increased costs themselves.
To counter rising food prices, restaurant owners should consider local agriculture and food producers. Using local food not only supports the local economy, but can generate positive community engagement, create customer loyalty and lower prices. Of course, Ryan Bishti acknowledges that local produce may not fit on a restaurant’s usual menu. In this case, restaurant owners may consider rethinking their menu, perhaps offering locally grown dishes at lower prices alongside more expensive imported produce.
The Role of Government
It’s not just up to restaurant owners to foster a prosperous 2022. The government must step in and continue to support restaurants. Initiatives like the Reopening High Streets Safely Fund and the Eat Out to Help Out program have lured consumers back into restaurants. Still, new waves of the COVID-19 virus continue to cause restaurants to suffer from inconsistent finances. It’s high time the government stepped in to put in place a comprehensive tax break scheme to help London’s restaurant industry thrive.
However, at the best of times, getting government officials moving can be a challenge. Therefore, restaurant owners should make their voices heard by reaching out to their local councilors and MPs.
As 2022 begins, London restaurant owners are having to adapt to the turbulent times they are living in. Implementing an approach that focuses on Ryan’s four key components can help them prepare for and achieve a successful year.