What effect has Covid-19 had on the hospitality industry around the world?

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

What effect has Covid-19 had on the hospitality industry around the world?

On Tuesday, editor of The Staff Canteen, Cara Houchen, spoke with chefs Kirk Westaway, executive chef at Jaan in Singapore, chef and co-founder of Masque Restaurant in Mumbai, Prateek Sadhu nel. Restaurant Sydney's Nelly Robinson, and Michelin-starred Niklas Ekstedt, Swedish chef and restaurateur, about the different ways in which the sector has had to adapt in the face of the pandemic.

Watch the whole debate here.

Coronavirus measures around the world


Lockdown: no

Physical distancing: 1.5m


Lockdown: yes, ongoing 

Physical distancing: 1m


Lockdown: yes, ended on the first week of June 

Physical distancing: 1.5m


Lockdown: yes, ongoing

Physical distancing: 1m

What are the different measures in place?

Sweden, explained Niklas, "has chosen to take a very soft handling of the coronavirus crisis."

While controversial, the rules mean that while nightclubs, theatres and large venues are closed, restaurants are allowed to be open if fewer than 50 people - including staff - are on the premises at any given time and that a 1.5 metre physical distance is kept between people. 

"We spread out the tables a little bit, but business has been almost as usual," he said - other than the change in demographic from tourists and foreigners to locals.

In Australia, Nelly said the industry was "hit quite hard," with a swift reaction from the government, almost imminent airport closures when the infection rate began to rise in Australia. 

With New Zealand's daily death toll back to 0 on Monday, and half a dozen over the course of a week in the Australian state of New South Wales, it was evidently a successful approach. 

Restaurant .nel has thus been able to reopen - and, giving hope to restaurants around the world - has seen customers flocking back in numbers. 

"People were itching to get out," he said. 

"People are out spending money. Last week we did 60% less people in the restaurant but made the same amount of money.

Things aren't so bright in India, which has been under strict lockdown since mid-March, but where the death toll is still rising. Prateek explained that as it stands, there are "no bars, no pubs, no shopping malls - everything is shut." 

Since April, Masque has been offering a takeaway and delivery service - which he said turned everything he took for granted upside down. 

They switched to a delivery model and are now selling burgers, tacos, and a finite number of traditional local dishes, but even having adapted he said the situation has been very difficult. 

"We're hanging in there, we're running a super tight ship," he said, but with no end of the lockdown in sight, the delivery model is their only hope of survival. 

"If we don't do that, we might have to take some crazy decisions.

In Singapore, lockdown began in April, and has been very well obeyed by the local population.

"The second you leave your house you have to wear a mask, whether you're going on public transport, out on the street, in the shops, even people still working in businesses or restaurants must wear a mask." 

Staff retention 

Kirk, who works in a large hotel which employs 1,500 staff, said most members of his kitchen team has found placements thanks to a government scheme  encouraging restaurants to place their staff in butcher's, fishmongers and local supermarkets to avoid lay-offs. The few remaining are working for the group in other roles - maintaining their full salary, job and position. 

"Generally, it's been taken care of very well," he said. 

Niklas said that across their three restaurants, they have cut down on staff by about 30% to comply with the 50 people limit inside their establishments. 

To enable this the menu has been cut down, courses taken off the tasting menu, making sure, he said "that we can do a short, fast menu with as little people as possible." 

Despite this, they have succeeded in keeping their core team at work, and, similarly to the UK's furlough scheme, the Swedish government is covering 80% of wages to avoid any lay-offs. 

Nelly said that having to sit down with his team and inform them that they were being let go was "heartbreaking," albeit necessary. 

His core team - head chef, sous chef and chef de partie are all on sponsorship programmes, and thus have remained on the payroll. While the government have introduced a grant scheme, foreigners aren't entitled to it, meaning just one of his 19 staff was entitled to it. 

Prateek said that nobody in his team has been let go, but their salaries were cut in order to facilitate that. But, contrary to the UK, the US and Australia, where the government has stepped out to help the restaurant industry, the situation in India is very different.

"Whatever money we are generating from delivery and takeaway menus is going to pay our rent and some salaries. We're not keeping anything in the bank because whatever we're earning, we're just distributing. 

"We're trying to do as much as we can so that our staff is retained and have some kind of an income so that they can survive." 

Looking ahead

With an opening not expected before August or even September, Prateek expects to have to change how they operate Masque. 

"Earlier, we had one menu, we had twelve courses, now we're thinking of reducing it to 5-6 courses and turning the tables around quickly."

With Mumbai being India's central financial hub, travel restrictions are likely to affect them in a big way. 

He remains optimistic that people will want to support local businesses as soon as they are allowed out again, and the delivery menu will remain in place to ensure a continuity of income even if people remain cautious. 

"One question I'm really asking myself a lot is - for us, hospitality is all about warmth and meeting each other, at the end of the service, you'll have your guests coming in your kitchen, giving you a nice hug - what will happen to that?

"Right now I'm just worried about the warmth, that's what we work for. It's a joy to serve and feed people, and at the end of the day when you get these hugs, fistbumps and high fives - I don't know what the new hospitality will be, or the new warmth." 

He is hopeful, however, that in time, business will resume as before.

He said: "As a human race, we have a tendency to bounce back quickly. There've been so many unfortunate things that have happened to the human race, but we bounce back so quickly and move on and I'm being hopeful and positive that we'll bounce back with this, if not this year, maybe next year." 

Is consumer confidence a given?

A positive omen is how fast Australians were willing to flood back into restaurants and bars as soon as they were given the all clear.

Nelly said it felt "magical" to see all the happy faces at the restaurant. "The cocktails were flowing all week. The Aussies were drinking, I can tell you that. 

"We had a few people that were groaning and moaning but our advice to them was: 'if you're worried, don't go out still.'"

In Stockholm, Niklas said, the public rebounded like lightening to the new measures, and with travel restrictions lifted, business is booming. 

"People are so happy that they can start travelling and visiting friends and eating out.

"We feel like life is coming back slowly to normal." 

And, with lots of money saved up, he said: "We can really feel that people are willing to pay to go out and eat." 

The sentiment is echoed by Prateek's guests in Mumbai, who have still been making bookings for September in troves. 

"In the general consensus of people, people are really excited. People are bored sitting at home and they really want to get out.

What about international tourism?

When it comes to international travel, the chefs are mostly optimistic that it will fire right back up when borders are opened. 

Niklas said: "I think people will really long for travelling and visiting other countries. That will definitely come back quickly. One thing I'm a little worried about, is that this type of meeting will take over business meetings and day trips. 

"Maybe they'll do that on Zoom or Google hangouts instead of travelling. So we might have less business travellers and more tourists. 

Nelly said he's feeling "really excited about it," with hopes that "guests and people with restaurants actually might appreciate what restaurants are about a little bit more. In the past few years - especially down this end, people have taken them for granted a little bit."

How does the world see us?

A lot rests in the UK government's decision on whether or not to maintain a 2 metre physical distance rule - which the chefs all agree could mean the difference between staying shut and being able to open.

Niklas' advice to the UK? "If you just hold out, hopefully the government will make sensible decisions, you're in for a treat. You're going to see how much people really enjoy restaurants and the restaurant industry will bounce back eventually." 

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 12th June 2020

What effect has Covid-19 had on the hospitality industry around the world?