“We must walk on all fours to get up again.” That is the view of a chef in Sicily, among close to two dozen restaurateurs and cooks we asked for their strategies to overcome the biggest crisis in the dining business in recent memory. After weeks of closed doors, customers are slowly starting to come back, and they are entering a different world from the pre-coronavirus era: shorter menus, spaced out tables and a fresh focus on takeaway food. But it’s also an opportunity to renew and reinvent, from closer ties to local suppliers to more affordable pricing that might include a dessert or drink on the house.
From Sydney to Copenhagen to Hong Kong, chefs are preparing for the post-pandemic future, and how they think they can make it work.
Gone are the days of bible-thick menus because kitchens will need to be quicker, serving dinner guests in multiple sittings to maintain a distance between visitors. Some restaurants may also have to get by with fewer staff in the kitchen at the dining room, so efficiency is key.
Luke Mangan | Luke’s Kitchen, Sydney
“We are changing things to make our customers feel they are safe when they dine with us. Our menus will be smaller to start, our teams will be more efficient, our restaurants will be very different from what they were.”
Neil Perry | Rockpool, Sydney
“Menus will be shorter, opening hours different, we will really have to manage staff. It’s a new world, but I think we will get back to the old one with more sanitation and good sense over the next couple of years.”
Comfort and safety
Face masks, gloves and disinfectant spray may seem more like objects from a hospital ward, but it’s part of the new reality in restaurants, too. Chefs are coming up with ways to make people feel welcome and safe at the same time.
Valentino Cassanelli | Lux Lucis, Forte dei Marmi/Italy
“We have adjusted our layout to have two meters between each table but 80% of our tables are in open air, on the terrace, roof top or by the beach. We will send a menu to all guests at the time of booking so they are able to order in advance. Our menu has been adapted as we become more in touch with our local territory and market.”
Shane Osborn | Arcane, Hong Kong
“You have to adapt to operate. It feels strange and awkward at first but you adjust to it. You need a really safe and comfortable environment. You need to show you are being very proactive just to let customers relax.”
Fatih Tutak | Turk Fatih Tutak, Istanbul
“We will offer small cards indicating that the tables are sanitized and hand gel, allowing the guests to disinfect their hands when seated. We will start to move away from physical materials, there will be no printed menus, we will provide a QR code to ensure that all guests have access to the menus from here. We will be using more simple techniques, handling the food less, but retaining the highest attention to detail. We want to prepare dishes that can be eaten by hand.
Silvena Rowe | Nassau, Dubai
“We will bounce back. The question is at what speed and how high. I want people to be confident. People are going to pay much more attention to their health.”
Eating out, At home
Taking your favourite restaurant’s food back home lets you have it both ways-the experience of a great meal and the safety of your private space. It’s an offer that more chefs around the world are embracing to keep business going, even with fewer people in the restaurant.
Nicola Fanetti | Brace, Copenhagen
“We started a takeaway service during the lockdown and we plan to continue this. We are going to have a choice of menus and two seatings per service. The prices will be affordable so that we can reach a larger audience.”
Rosio Sanchez | Sanchez, Copenhagen
“We offer a Sanchez en Casa option for those who want to have the Sanchez flavours at home.”
Helena Puolakka | Savoy, Helsinki
“I am working on sustainable hampers with beautiful packaging that guests can take away for weekend meals whilst going sailing or to summer houses. The mountain of rubbish everyone eating take away is not sustainable.”
Embrace the challenge
It’s hard not to feel gloomy about the future, but some restaurateurs also see the crisis as a chance to reboot, rethink and revive theie industry.
Anthony Genovese | Il Pagliaccio, Rome
“It is in moments like this that the team is important, unity and cohesion, which has helped me to reformulate the whole menu again. I look to the future with hope and tenacity, feelings that have never left me during this period, thanks to the fact that Italy is always ready to renew itself, to invent itself again.”
Martha Ortiz | Dulce Patria, Mexico City
“I am looking for gastronomy projects that can help me expand. One of them is to create a line of table art with Mexican designs. The other is for stores, a line of Mexican products that offers the innovation, quality, price and design that I am looking for.”
Mauro Colagreco | Mirazur, Menton/France
“We need to reinvent ourselves to move forward. The challenge is to turn the darkest aspect of this crisis into beauty, transform the negative into something positive. The creativity we use in our kitchen now needs to be used to think and devise new ways to work together, with our suppliers, gardeners, local producers and artisans. We won’t be able to exit this crisis individually; we must work collectively with a new perspective on the world and the impact of our actions.”
Think Global, Cook Local
For the foreseeable future, people will travel less, particularly for long-haul trips. That means some trusted customers will no longer show up, while another, more local clientele may instead come knocking on the door.
Norbert Niederkofler | St. Hubertus, San Cassiano/Italy
“We started long ago with a project called Cook the Mountain, so totally local, with lots of respect for the local farmers and products. The restaurant business will change for sure with the customers we are going to have. Flights will be much more expensive so less guests flying around just for dinner and food.”
Ana Roš | Hiša Franko, Kobarid/Solvenia
“This is an amazing opportunity for us to open ourselves to a more regional market. Before, probably 30% of our clientele were Americans, some British. Today, we need to understand that Europeans will be our main customers. We’re no more than a four-hour drive for Germans, Italians, Austrians. I want to see more regional clients.”
Virgilio Martinez | Central, Lima
“We can survive together, working hard, innovating and making the most of the situation when we see no tourism, no restaurants open. The new luxury will be coming closer to nature and genuine experiences. When we open, we’ll have more focus on using local ingredients, local knowledge. There may be fewer fine-dinning options but they will be better.”
Vineet Bhatia | Indego by Vineet, Dubai
“A lot of our restaurants are in luxury hotels, dependent on corporate travel and high-end tourists. And in London, we are dependent on tourists and we’re not going to get the Chinese market coming in, or the Middle East market.”
Be Kind to One Another
The chef may have his name on the door, but restaurant life after the pandemic means everyone on the line counts, from the front desk to the chap washing the plates and carrying out the trash.
Ciccio Sultano | Duomo, Ragusa/Sicily
“We must walk on all fours to get up again tomorrow. It is also clear to me that the world will have to have more respect for itself in the future. Of course, the pandemic has not changed nor will I change the way I cook. We will be even more a family, attentive to the needs of the moment. if there will be less income it will be like this for everyone.”
Diego Muñoz | Atman, Lima
“This situation puts us in perspective on how much we are connected and how we can affect the rest with our own actions and decisions. We must come out of this situation being better persons — cooks, farmers, customers, wine makers, waiters, restaurateurs and everyone that creates this beautiful synergy of giving and taking.”
Enrique Olvera | Pujol, Mexico City
“We will continue to drift apart from luxurious nonsense: Rather focusing on the resilience of our food systems, the people that are part of it and the well-being of our customers.”
Having Fun Can Be Hard
Restaurants of the future will not just have smaller menus, they will also seat fewer people, with restrictions ranging from space to curfews to no more friendly banter with the owner. That will make it much harder to establish a welcoming atmosphere, some chefs say.
Thitid Tassanakajohn | Baan, Bangkok
“I’ve reopened Baan, one of my four restaurants, with a lot of restrictions. We were 30 seats restaurant before Covid-19 and now we can seat only eight. On top of that, we have a curfew at 10 p.m. meaning we have to let customers leave by 8:30 pm. It’s difficult.”
Prateek Sadhu | Masque, Mumbai
“People used to come into the kitchen and give me a tight hug at the end of the day. That’s hospitality. It was like a family with our guests. But are we going to be able to do that? What about that warmth? Something will be taken out of restaurants if we’re all wearing gloves and masks, with minimum interaction.”
Richard Vines is chief food critic at Bloomberg.