What’s Next for Shared Kitchens? Getting Ready for the New Normal

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You’re probably tired of hearing the phrase the new normal. And might be wondering what it actually means for you and your business – how will your clients safely produce food? When will large events open back up? Will you have to redesign your serving process for safe distancing? How will you keep your staff healthy and feeling safe? We thought it was worth trying to answer these questions, using the best available data and predictions. 

It’s not easy to make these predictions, especially without a working crystal ball, but we can point to similar disruptions like the decimation of the airline industry post-9/11 and the economic downturn after the 2008 financial crisis to get an idea of what, systematically, a post-Covid-19 world might look like and what the impact might be for shared commercial kitchens. This should help you and the industry make longer-term plans to secure your future.

What Will the Post-Covid World Look Like for Food Businesses?

First of all, it might not be a post-Covid world, but more of a managed Covid world. Either way, social distancing, an increased focus on personal hygiene, face mask wearing, and contact tracing at all kinds of restaurants and in kitchens may be the new normal. Let’s get into some of the details.

Dining Out

We can get a clearer picture by looking at a city like Hong Kong, one of the most densely populated in the world which, despite bordering China, has managed to minimize the spread of the virus without a full lockdown. The government did implement rules requiring restaurants to run at half capacity with tables of no more than four diners (recently increased to eight).

Many restaurants go further than this, checking each guest’s temperature and requiring every diner to sign a declaration in order to track the spread should a confirmed case be recorded. If a guest arrives with a temperature of over 99.5F (37.5C), they are not allowed in. Some restaurants also offer paper bags for customers to place their masks in while they eat. With all of these measures in place and all the staff wearing masks, the atmosphere is affected, but the most important thing is that customers and staff feel safe.

One Hong Kong restaurant group released this Covid-19 playbook, which has been picked up by Business Insider and shared widely as a model for safe reopening. It also gives advice on managing cash, communicating with customers and the public should things go wrong, and practical tips on implementing hygiene and distancing measures to stop the spread of the virus, all very much applicable to shared kitchen owners and all kinds of food businesses.

In the US, strict hygiene and distancing measures will become normal, routine, and in some instances, requirements. We are likely to see sanitizer at the door, disposable paper menus, people wearing masks, and large gatherings of people in confined places will be limited to the extent possible. There will be more space, and less density, which has obviously negative impacts on economies of scale, and therefore, food prices. 

This gives us an idea of what dining out may look like in the future. But what about catering and eating on the go?

Food Trucks and Caterers

With festivals and events of all kinds cancelled for the foreseeable future, food truck operators have had to adjust. But they also may be well placed to pick up the slack from other areas of the restaurant business given their flexible mobile nature. Food trucks can be many things in an uncertain world, from mobile meal prep kitchens, to food delivery vehicles, to portable mini restaurants. With the proper social distancing and hygiene measures in place, there’s certainly an opportunity for food trucks.

With a lack of physical assets to pivot around, and a summer of weddings, festivals, and large gatherings wiped out, things are looking bleak for caterers. If you can manage your cash flow (or help your caterer tenants to do so) and survive, the future does offer hope. Weddings and large events will still happen and with up to a year’s worth of events being hastily rescheduled, there is going to be a huge amount of demand once things get back up and running. Buffets are out, but even if people are having to distance during events, they will still need to eat. Events are likely to follow similar guidelines as restaurants, with more distance between tables, staff wearing masks, and sanitizer on each table. Many caterers across the country are being plugged in to quantity food production for emergency, institutional, and first responder meals. People still need to eat so this is where being creative pays off. 

An Accelerated Shift to Digital

We were already rapidly moving away from the traditional models of business and food consumption into the digital realm and Covid has accelerated this shift. As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella puts it, “As Covid-19 impacts every aspect of our work and life, we have seen two years worth of digital transformation in two months.”

Many digital platforms have seized the opportunity to onboard as many new users as possible by offering their services for free or at a discount during the pandemic. Others have switched their offerings to take advantage of the demand.

One of the positives of a Covid-induced shift to digital is that more and better platforms will emerge to help business owners improve efficiency, save money, and offer their customers more convenience. Delivery platforms and aggregators have seen huge spikes in demand and have hastily onboarded as many new restaurants as possible. Many restaurant reservation and marketing platforms have pivoted to offer online ordering and help restaurants set themselves up to offer their own delivery services.

How does this impact the food industry and specifically shared kitchens? 

With restaurants forced into offering delivery and curbside pickup, delivery platforms are creating more demand for centralized kitchen facilities. We are likely to see more digital restaurant brands offering delivery-only, and a resurgence in boxed meals and meal kits, which many predicted was a dying market. This points to an increase in businesses looking for space in shared kitchens, especially when many may be looking for a lease with less commitment in uncertain times. 

Better tech for shared kitchens will help to bring in more tenants and help to keep businesses afloat during this challenging time. Solutions like The Food Corridor’s shared kitchen management software make scheduling, staying on top of your finances, and managing tenants more efficient and cheaper overall, which might just be the difference between boom or bust in today’s climate. The software can also be used by existing restaurants wanting to share their excess capacity with other operators. If you are interested in posting your space, you can do so for free at The Kitchen Door. 

Ecommerce in the Food Industry is More Important than Ever

A recent survey by Brick Meets Click and ShopperKit says that the number of households using online grocery services has doubled compared to last year, to 40 million per month. Looking forward, almost half the respondents said they were either very likely or extremely likely to continue shopping online in the future.

With grocery giants Amazon and Walmart struggling to keep up with the surge in orders, online farmer’s markets have been trying to take a slice of the market. With the peak harvest fast approaching and most of the country still locked down, growers and producers need a marketplace and will flock even more quickly to online platforms to shift their produce.

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