Opinion: Now is the time to build a better hospitality industry

01 April, 2021 by Vanessa Cavasinni

me&u CEO Stevan Premutico presented at the Pub Leaders Summit on changing consumer behaviour post-lockdown. Below, he argues that it’s time for the industry to change their operating behaviours as well.

It’s been almost one year to the day that we first received news of this tiny little virus from the other side of the planet which would go on to give us an almighty knock-out punch. An industry that prided itself on bringing people together, suddenly found itself all alone. Empty venues. Depleted tills. Desperate staff. Exhaustion. Tears. Questions. Few answers.

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But in true hospo spirit, we never gave in. We proved time and time again that there was a heart, a soul, a spirit, a togetherness that binds this great industry and its great people. We carried each other through the darkest of days and we survived the worst 12 months in living history. But just when we thought we could see a light at the end of the tunnel, the tap got turned off and the JobKeeper lifeline came to a brutal end. The straw that broke the camel’s back for many.

It is often only in times of pure desperation that we force ourselves to rethink, evolve and challenge what we have always done. I truly hope that it’s in here that we begin to open the doors to a better future, a better industry. I deeply believe that opening the doors and going back to what was, is not an option. This industry deserves better. We need to fight for a new standard, a new normal, a better industry – one that is more sustainable, more profitable, more beautiful. As COVID starts to become part of our history, we now have an opportunity (and an obligation) to restart, reinspire, recreate; to craft a better business and a better industry.

There are some real silver linings (and exciting rays of hope) here that we should try and latch onto:

  1. We found that innovation was at the heart of this great industry. We pivoted, we tried new things, we played with new business models, we searched for ways to do more with less.
  2. Great technology has found its way into our dining rooms and drinking halls and we have seen that it can co-exist alongside magical customer experiences. It’s not one or the other, there is a role for great tech and great humanity to co-exist and elevate the overall experience together.
  3. Customers want to spend more money in our venues. Traditionally, we have just made it hard for them to do so. I can push a button and get an Uber to my home in two minutes, yet it takes me five minutes to order a beer in a pub. The world is changing fast, as are customer expectations.
  4. A pared back menu of 10 great dishes is much better than a menu of 25 good ones. We have seen a significant shift towards smaller, more consolidated menus that focus on the signature dishes that customers will love.
  5. Efficiency matters more than ever because customers expect speed and convenience, but also because labour is crippling this industry. One of the biggest trends we have seen out of COVID is the boom of pre-batched cocktails that take 45 seconds rather than four minutes to make, and taste just as good and are always consistent.
  6. Fast and nimble beats big and slow – always. If anything COVID proved time after time that we can be a fast and nimble industry when we want to be. We pivoted, shuffled, pivoted, shuffled, and found our feet time and time again.
  7. The customer has evolved rapidly and we need to do the same. We have to keep up with their rapidly changing expectations.
  8. Most importantly we discovered that we are just not the same nation without hospitality. We longed for that beer with a mate, coffee with a friend, pasta with our lover. Life just isn’t the same without our hospo.

Like many of you, I have committed my life to this industry. I love the people. I love the memories that are formed around the table. I love the smiles.

When COVID locked down the entire industry, we made a commitment to ourselves and the business. We weren’t going to chase takeaway or delivery, but instead we were going to buckle down and get ourselves ready to help the industry survive and thrive when the doors re-opened again. There was a unity, a spirit and a fight amongst the team at that point that I have rarely seen. It was beautiful to be a part of. We have only just started but we are here and committed to doing whatever it takes.