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Viewpoint: Getting ahead of the curve

07 May 2020
Viewpoint: Getting ahead of the curve

The best way to navigate the coronavirus crisis is by looking to and learning from our peers in China. Ian Cranna explains

As a global organisation, we have the privileged benefit of sharing best practice and learnings with colleagues across the world. The consumer insights from countries ahead of us in the coronavirus curve are invaluable to help us understand and predict consumer habits and develop a sustainable foodservice offer.

We appreciate there will always be cultural differences, but largely the responses of each nation to identify the best way to keep people safe have been replicated across the globe. I recently had the opportunity to speak to our colleagues in Compass Group China as they release restrictions, which will help pave a way for our return to work in the UK.

Consumer behaviour post-lockdown

Our research in China tells us there is an understandable nervousness about returning to day-to-day life. Some consumers are excited to be able to leave their homes, meet up again in groups, create celebratory events and try to get back to "normal", but many are continuing to exercise caution, staying local, avoiding crowds and eating alone.

While there hasn't been an instant return to "business as usual", there is a slow, incremental day-by-day build of a return to business as people adjust.

The Chinese government released restrictions gradually, relying heavily on technology as its route out of the crisis. We are now seeing restrictions slowly being lifted across Europe and expect to see something similar in the UK.

In China, restaurants initially provided click and collect options, then opened for takeaway collections, with customers being able to pay in store, then moved to limited covers, before returning to restaurants opening fully.

Even with the restrictions being lifted and restaurants opening, click and collect services continue to have a high demand. It's too early to predict whether this will reflect a longer-term change to consumer habits, but we do believe that this trend is likely to continue for some time to come.

Health and wellness checks have become commonplace. Everyone entering a workplace, food outlet or coffee shop has their temperature taken; hand sanitiser and masks are available at entrances; and everyone has a health app that needs to be shown with a ‘green' status to be allowed entry. The app is compulsory and contains that person's testing history (red: requires you to quarantine; green: healthy).

These measures all reflect a significant change to people's everyday lives, to which businesses are required to adapt.

What will the UK do?

It's hard to know what measures the UK will introduce. The monitoring of people's health and, of course, the requirement to keep people safe will be paramount. We expect social distancing to continue for some time, driven either by government advice or consumer behaviour.

Alongside this, additional surface cleaning, the use of sanitiser and vigilant hand washing, plus sneeze screens and other measures will become familiar sights. We have started to look at what this will mean for our foodservice operations and are developing a number of different models, so that we are able to quickly implement new learnings at sites where we are currently operating and update those sites where we need to remobilise.

We recognise that these will be significant changes, not only for our customers, but employees too. Therefore, we will be providing further practical and emotional support for our people, as we know that having successful teams leads to successful service. Our people will always remain at the heart of our business.

All of these proposals are being kept under constant review and will evolve and adapt as we learn more and listen to government recommendations, what our clients and consumers want, and, importantly, successes from our businesses across the world. We know that it's essential for consumers to feel safe and comfortable in their working and recreational environments and we need to ensure we get the balance right, focusing on providing a nutritious meal alongside safety regulations.

We have started to roll out our return-to-work programme to ensure we can be as ready as possible to confidently deliver a safe foodservice offer to our consumers and clients. Even though much has changed, we will continue to do what we always have done: provide well-balanced, tasty food in a welcoming and safe environment.

New processes for businesses to consider

  • Protecting employee and customer health – daily self-declarations of health and wellness on reporting for work;
  • Enhanced cleaning and sanitisation processes – easy access to sanitiser with the creation of sanitisation stations;
  • Introduction of sneeze screens;
  • Reviewing the wearing of gloves and potentially face masks or visors by food production and serving teams;
  • Social distancing – looking at how layouts can be changed to accommodate two metre distancing;
  • Introduce pre-ordered and pre-portioned takeaway service models.

Ian Cranna is future food offer and new channels director at Compass Group UK & Ireland

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