Cover Photo: Instagram / @helmmnl

Chef Josh Boutwood, Ana de Ocampo, and more industry experts share their must-know tips as they reflect on the keys to success and lessons learned through the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose seemingly insurmountable challenges for the restaurant industry. Between travel restrictions, ever-changing regulations, and some preference for takeaway, even the most beloved and celebrated institutions have fallen victim to the pandemic's woes. However, all hope is not lost. Many of the country’s top chefs and restaurateurs look to the future with grounded optimism, equipped with invaluable experience and lessons learned as they put their best plate forward.

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1. Think Before You Act

“Think before you act,” stresses chef Josh Boutwood, the resilient mind behind The Test Kitchen, Savage, Helm, and various Bistro Group restaurants. “The worst thing we can do right now is to act too fast and make a mistake and have to backtrack.” This tactic certainly worked well for Boutwood. At the onset of the initial lockdown, the strategist took a step back to examine the global industry, looking at how players in other countries had responded to the pandemic to learn from their successes and shortcomings.

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Photo: Instagram / @helmmnl
Above Photo: Instagram / @helmmnl

President of RestoPH Eric Teng took a similar approach. As the president and CEO of Mango Tree Restaurants, Teng was one of many restaurant owners gravely concerned about the survival of his businesses and the industry at large. Through Resto PH, Teng and his team enable these restaurateurs to “share experiences with other restaurant owners, chefs, and share best practices, debate ideas”. Though it started off as a casual Viber group, Teng looked at what other restaurant associations around the world were doing, shaping RestoPH into the formidable representative voice that it is today while allowing these industry experts to learn from one another.

Take a leaf out of their playbook and equip yourself with these must-know tips from the experts themselves: 

See also: How Has Dining In The Philippines Changed Through The Pandemic?

2. Nurture Your Relationships

For Ana De Ocampo, president and CEO of Wildflour Group, the relationships with their stakeholders were absolutely essential. Despite the day-to-day obstacles they had to face amidst the pandemic, De Ocampo made certain that she “continued to nurture that relationship” she forged with her stakeholders, be it landlords, suppliers, employees, etc. “They are the ones who will be behind you”, she intimates, emphasising the value of their support throughout the “trials and tribulations” they encountered.

See also: Abba Napa and Ana De Ocampo Talk About Running F&B Operations During Quarantine in Metro Manila

3. Invest in E-Commerce

As co-founder, chairman and managing director of Novateur Coffee Concepts Inc., co-founder and executive chairman of the Philippine Vending Corporation, and many more titles to boot, Patrick Pesengco oversees an impressive portfolio of F&B operations throughout the country. His key takeaway through the pandemic? Invest and pivot to integrate stronger e-commerce into your operations.

See also: Say Yes To E-Commerce In The Philippines Says Julien Marie, Founder Of The Bow Tie Duck

4. Adapt

While his tasting-menu destination Helm was closed for most of the pandemic, chef Boutwood was pressed to pivot his other restaurants and keep them operational. As he admits, the menus were certainly not designed for takeaway. Instead of submitting to the lockdowns and shutting down, Boutwood was inspired to think out of the box, essentially forming new “microbrands through our restaurants that helped us survive” through DIY kits and new takeaway offerings.

See also: Chef's Table: With Josh Boutwood

5. Be Realistic, but Think Positively

Finally, Teng took the time to reassure us that things are in fact getting better. In many parts of the world, restaurants are filling up with diners once again, hungry for both delicious food and much-needed social activity. In other markets, restaurants are doing even better than they were pre-pandemic, with some reporting a 120 per cent performance rate. While we may not see the definitive end of COVID-19 anytime soon, we can look forward to the steady revitalisation of the restaurant industry, memorable meals enjoyed with friends and family, and as Teng jokes, “Santa Claus in a face mask”.

See also: I Miss Eating Out. . . Why Nothing Can Replace Dine-in

Content from this feature was sourced from Food vs. Pandemic: The Role of Food Service, a webinar by Inquirer Lifestyle.

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