5 Essentials for Restaurant Owners to cope with the Pandemic Blues
This time is unprecedented (yes, I'm done with this word too!) for all of us. For me, for the first time in 10 years, work stopped. As a restaurant owner and entrepreneur, I was so used to always being on and always working. I went through months of uncertainty, despair and confusion before I snapped myself out of it to do what I had to for my business to survive. I had to ask myself some hard questions and act fast. I've seen many food entrepreneurs re-invent themselves and experiment with different models to survive. It's been a tough time navigating this but below are 5 essentials that helped me cope with the pandemic.
1 . REAL CONVERSATIONS: We're often told as a society to not show our weaknesses and always put up a brave front. I don't believe in that at all - as a leader or entrepreneur, I decided to be as open and honest about everything that was going on with Le15 and that resonated with our customers at a different level. Early on, I realised that we wouldn't be able to survive if we stuck to our business model of cafes and pastry shops. It was the hardest decision I've ever had to make, but I knew that if we had to survive - I would have to make tough decisions fast. We closed our flagship cafe in Colaba and our petit cafe in Oberoi Mall. This helped us lower our costs, limit our liabilities and gave us some time to work on our business model. We put together an e-cookbook with all the recipes and people bought them to support us. Even with my team - I was fully transparent and made sure they knew exactly what was going on at all times.
2. GO BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD: This time truly helped us to go back to our mission statement which is about bringing joy to people's lives and asking ourselves how we can still carry out that mission but in different formats. We'd been researching and working on our packaged good line for years and it was time to put all our energy into it. We could focus on what was important to us and work on a product range, staying true to our principles and ideas.
3. COMMUNITY: A crisis truly shows you what's important and helps you find opportunities to serve the community too. From Chef Saransh Golia starting Covid Meals for India that brought together food services for covid relief to Neysa Mendes starting #BakeForIndia which helped bakers around the country raise money for covid relief - a lot of chefs and restaurateurs channeled their despair into something that would help the community.
4. RE-INVENTION: Necessity is the mother of all - in this case re-invention. Whether it was Riyaaz Amlani tying up with Mumbai Dabbawalas for food deliveries, Chef Seefah starting an Asian Bakery or us at Le15 setting up a Shopify store to start all India deliveries. Through Shopify's platform, we were able to list all our products on our website. Also, we started tracking our Shopify backend to understand where our customers, across India, were ordering from. Taking a closer look at how things work and finding ways to adapt and change definitely helped us.
5. BUILD REL ATIONSHIPS WITH YOUR CUSTOMERS: Building digital relationships with our consumers even when business was shut, helped us get through some difficult times. Whether it was conducting virtual classes or sharing recipes online - that sense of connection kept me going. This time helped us realise what we're good at and where we need to improve. While learning and improving is a constant process for us, we really looked at our online community and thought of ways we could build a better relationship with our customers. We started a Le15 Taste Club through our Instagram pages and now have thousands of our customers tasting and testing our products before they launch. This not only gives us critical feedback but helps us understand the market better.
(The author is India's celebrated macaroon chef and founder of the Le15 Patisserie bakery chain)