Over the last two decades Angela Malik (MBA 2019) has influenced the global food industry as a top chef, successful entrepreneur and trusted government advisor. She is a thought-leader in the hospitality industry and an international voice on gender and race diversity, sustainability and change. One of her many roles is as Partner and Strategy Director at Think Hospitality, a collective of hospitality leaders working to grow brands and businesses in the restaurant, food and beverages trade.
In this interview she gives her thoughts on the long term impact COVID-19 will have on the hospitality industry and the innovative solutions which could help.
Impact on the sector
“The hospitality industry has always been synonymous with weekly pay and minimum wage. This means many workers have been hit hard by the effects of lockdown and the closure of the industry.
“In many ways the industry was the canary in the coalmine in terms of flagging the initial economic impact of the pandemic on the country. We saw visitor numbers dropping, and a decline in Asian tourists as early as February 2020. We were already in a more vulnerable place because of the impacts of Brexit, and as an industry we were already feeling very undervalued. Then as the pandemic moved across Europe, the warning signs were taken seriously. There was a shift in public consciousness and suddenly we were at the top of the Government’s agenda. Then overnight the industry shut down. There was shock and panic.
“The government has certainly taken more notice, acknowledging the importance of food waste, food poverty, and the loss of jobs. The relief package and furlough scheme led to a sigh of relief from that point of view.”
As a board member on the influential Mayor of London’s Food Board, Angela was already aware of the need to address food supply issues within the capital. “The initial food shortages that we saw across the country as a result of lockdown, highlighted the huge contradiction. There was panic buying from supermarkets, which were left with bare shelves, while trade wholesalers had warehouses that were full, with food going to waste.
“The food system is unequal and this situation has given us a chance to stand back and reflect. How can we make changes to create a more sustainable system? And how can we create more adaptable food chains.”
How is the industry reacting?
“One of the biggest challenges has been adaptability of business and service. The businesses that have been able to be agile and flexible are those which will survive – the wholesalers who now do door-to-door deliveries, the pubs providing take away meals etc.
“Green shoots are slowly starting to appear. We have clients reengaging – they know it will be a changed world, so how can they respond to this, what is next and what are the opportunities? Currently this is the great unknown. However as lockdown eases, it will be possible to scenario plan and strategically analyse options.
“There will be a new landscape post COVID-19, with a huge shift in terms of the key players. The giants who can’t adapt will fall away and mid-size and smaller businesses will have the potential to grow.
“Things will move to be hyper-local, which is a chance for local restaurants and shops to thrive, with those able to collaborate evolving at an even faster pace. Technology will be used to forward plan. Perhaps for restaurants this will mean moving to a model of 50% full for 7 days a week as opposed to 100% 3 days a week, based on advanced bookings only. Many people realise that government support can’t be sustained indefinitely and therefore they need to survive by reaching new customers. The causalities will be those what were struggling anyway, the ones that can’t be agile."
There will be a new landscape post COVID-19, with a huge shift in terms of the key players
“One of the main issues for restaurants and pubs is what will they look like? Will they have to be redesigned in response to social distancing? Is it possible to create areas within restaurants where social groups can meet in safety? There will be plenty of space for creative thinking, but this won’t be possible for everyone and all businesses. How can you reconfigure seating without taking away from the experience? How do you create the same ambiance, atmosphere and intimacy that customers are looking for when they eat out?
“The pub industry is also taking a huge hit, just as it was on an upwards trajectory. In 2018/19 the wet-trade industry overtook restaurant growth, riding the wave of popularity around craft beers and artisan gins. The question is how are the big pub chains and owners going to support their tenants? The pub trade is not one which can easily adapt, so there may be industry losses here.
“Three years ago Wetherspoon launched their Order & Pay app which allowed customers to order food and drinks to their table via their phone, without queuing at the bar. It was the most popular app in pub history. Could similar models work elsewhere? If drinks and food can come to you, and the number of customers is managed, this reduces social interaction. Of course, this will involve a huge amount of scenario planning, and projections on the minimal viable product, but it is possible.”
Now is the time to create our new normal, and we as an industry can influence how we want this to look.
A former student at Leiths School of Food and Wine, Angela is now a guest chef. She spoke about how the school is adapting to reaching out to a whole new global audience.
“Leiths Instagram stories and online cookery programmes have been very successful. They have adapted to deliver hand-on training, such as ingredients boxes through the post and cooking in real time online classes. This has led to global sign up and opened up the brand to a worldwide audience.”
And this positive response is one we should all be embracing according to Angela: “I believe this is a powerful, evolutional time. We have the chance to evolve into the next version of ourselves. I am an optimist at heart, so although I can see the challenges, I realise we won’t go back to where we were before. Now is the time to create our new normal, and we as an industry can influence how we want this to look.”