Invention in a time of Crisis – the topic of my blog on 20 March. Corona was here, we already saw the impact on the tourism industry and I preached positive and creative thinking. A few days later, the national lockdown was announced and from then on, the degree to which we had to be innovative and creative – in all aspects of life – slowly revealed itself. It was daunting. Especially for the restaurant business.
A new way of communication and selling was the initial idea. Never before were we so thankful for social platforms allowing us personal and business communication. Online shopping became the go-to, but if you were in wine and hospitality, there was nothing to sell. Alcohol was in a lockdown of its own and taking tourism experience online has its limitations. The ban on alcohol was unique to South Africa, but the challenge to restaurants was and continues to be global. And there’s no history to learn from. No research that can guide us. The importance of tourism and hospitality and the social challenges of this pandemic are something completely new. Webinars and online articles forced us to apply our minds and to forecast what the new world would look like.
For businesses like restaurants, however, theory and speculation are luxuries, they have to survive. And while many sadly closed their doors, some are still resiliently trying to find a way. There is nothing easy about turning a fine-dining establishment into a delivery service. Chefs are artists and asking them to change their discipline is a challenge, but it is also a wonderful opportunity to think outside of the box and embrace other skills. Knowing how to profitably run a restaurant, understanding flavours – those skills now have to be applied in setting different to a fine-dining sit-down experience.
Those who are in the business of take-aways and ordering in, understand what it takes to make ends meet in such a food environment. They specialise in the marketing of their offering and the logistics of getting comforting home meals and convenient fast food delivered. Restaurants, however, are aimed at more than the food. It is about experience and ambience and making people feel special. It is about the food, but also the wine, the attention to detail, the décor and the interaction with the chef and even the waiting staff. The food cost is of course much higher and the whole offering results in a much more expensive exercise than an informal pizza restaurant or take-away café.
With sit-down restaurants all over the world being closed for months already, chefs and culinary teams had to come up with other plans. They had to find a way to take food to their customers. Some stayed with their fine-dining principles. The level of detail and creativity to ensure delivery of a fine dining eating experience is really commendable. But the challenge for the traditional sit-down restaurant is not only the style of its food, it’s also the pockets of its customers. Perhaps the clientele of up-market restaurants can still afford that exceptional but expensive meal once in a while, but many regular restaurant-goers are more cautious when it comes to spending. With job uncertainty and salary cuts, many restaurants had to change their offering to suit the logistical challenges of home delivery, but also to stay affordable.
We have also changed the model of our two Franschhoek restaurants and have introduced home delivery. We tried to stay true to our style of food, but offer it in a way that is easier to transport and to re-heat at home. We love the idea of families being able to enjoy some of their favourites from our restaurants, being able to cater for special celebrations at home and we are consistently thinking of how we can add more pleasure to each package. (Read more on the offering from La Motte / Leopard’s Leap Family Vineyards)
Restaurants are all on a learning curve. Culinary and marketing teams have to be inventive, but more than ever before, it is also about maintaining the relationships with a loyal customer base. In the end, good food and good service are the basics – regardless of where you enjoy the meal.
Here are some of the restaurant inventions that impressed me.
Chef René Redzepi’s Noma Restaurant in Copenhagen has been appointed as the world’s best restaurant four times. Finding a reservation at this esteemed restaurant was no easy feat and we were incredibly happy when we got a table to dine there. Some of our chefs even had a stint in the famous kitchen. All about foraging and using local ingredients, Noma was the poster child for fine-dining and culinary innovation. How are they dealing with Covid-19? Since Danish restaurants have reopened, the new Noma is a no-reservations wine bar and burger joint! (Read more) Perhaps only a temporary arrangement, for me, this is what innovation is all about. It takes courage!
In South Africa, there are options to enjoy fine-dining at home. Acclaimed restaurants Wolfgat and La Colombe are two examples. The offering is exceptional and ideal for foodies and special celebrations. Some restaurants already had the perfect offering to take home. Bertus Basson is known for his innovation when it comes to restaurants and he was ideally positioned with his hamburgers and home food when food deliveries reopened. But more than celebrity chefs and acclaimed establishments, restaurants relying on tourists, also have to adapt.
The Franschhoek Valley has been regarded as South Africa’s culinary hot spot for many years. For a depressing long time now, the usually bustling main road has been quiet and all the restaurants and charming cafés closed. While local chefs did an exemplary job of supporting the local community with soup kitchens and family meals, many are now reopening with an adjusted offering – some deliver family meals, some have turned into deli’s – and I am delighted to see the support of the community. Deliveries are mainly focused on the local areas, but click and collect allows those in the mood for a Winelands drive, to order online and collect from the estates – making Franschhoek food accessible again to a wider audience.
Rather than relaxing in a beautiful restaurant, you might now receive your meal in the parking lot from a waiter with a mask and bottle of hand sanitizer. Seems less romantic… but those meals are prepared with as much love as before – I think perhaps with even more as restaurants again realise how dependent they are on people enjoying their food.
Follow the links below to find your Franschhoek favourites: