HostMilano is the world leading trade fair dedicated to the sector, a reference point for operators of the industry, confirming itself as a veritable driver of quality business. The contribution of top players and professionals who share their know-how and express their reflections becomes interesting food for thought for everyone involved in the world of hospitality looking to discuss the future of the industry. The global catering sector is facing new dynamics to cope with the current health emergency situation. The keyword are sanitation, safety and health protection for customers and employees, but also search for new business models.

The different countries are facing different stages of the pandemic, operators have already taken action by promoting initiatives to re-start as soon as possible and at maximum capacity, in compliance with hygiene protocols ald social distancing rules. The new strategies, monitored by HostMilano, privileged observatory on the trends of the sector, evolve towards alternative formulas of service and consumption with innovative management approaches.

Catering and technology: the surge in delivery services, between cloud, ghost, and virtual kitchens
A 2018 analysis by research company Frost & Sullivan on online food delivery already predicted significant growth by 2025 driven by constant global penetration, new acquisitions and the adoption of new technologies. The prediction is proving more than ever true – also because of the inescapable need to manage the Covid emergency. Nowadays the delivery service, especially in countries that are still facing the early stages of the pandemic, is perhaps the only operational mode for the horeca sector and the only way to maintain contact with customers. Bars and restaurants in different countries are in fact going through what in Italy has been considered the “Phase 1” to contain the spread of the virus, following the guidelines dictated by the World Health Organisation and local administrations. To cope with forced closures, restaurants and fast food chains, that already experienced the delivery service, have resorted to technology, expanding systems beyond the classic concept of home delivery. One of the latest modes developed is the cloud kitchen. A cloud kitchen is when an operator realises a co-working space equipped for two or more restaurateurs that work for one or more delivery platforms each with its own brand. As well as the ghost kitchen: in this case the restaurateur creates a kitchen where he supplies with his own brand the delivery platforms, or develops a delivery system on his own. A dark kitchen, on the other hand, is managed by a traditional restaurateur that dedicates a space to delivery, while in a virtual kitchen an established brand enters a market where it is not present yet, through a franchise agreement. These temporary solutions can certainly not replace the concept of restaurant, but represent a momentary way to go, that may also continue in the future along with the actual restaurant business. John Lettieri, founder, president & ceo of the HERO CERTIFIED chain, witnesses the situation in Canada for this particular segment. Within his chain, he is promoting the formula of the Virtual Kitchen, a very interesting model to increase the business: “Virtual kitchens are set to disrupt the industry eatery industry in Canada. Revenue from food delivery is estimated to grow by 2.5 million per year at a rate of 23.3% for approximately 95,000 operators. Which are the benefits? Taking advantage of existing fixed assets, expand franchise formulas without start-up costs and investments reduced to a minimum. The virtual Kitchen gives access to new dining trends and changes consumer preferences. Operators in the sector are currently looking for different ways to increase their business. The online delivery of food is part of a macro trend today characterized by the on demand formula and millenials are especially the audience to which we aim the most: from a research they are three times more likely to “order in” than their parents”.

What about fine dining?
The return to out-of-home consumption, fine dining, with due precautions, arises as consumers first wish. For example, the Middle-East countries, whose hospitality is recognised worldwide and accommodation facilities are a symbol of a futuristic architecture, are looking to the future with optimism. In order to re-open, restaurants and hotels are activating to rethink the space thus reducing the number of tables available and providing the customer a safer mise en place, using disposable products. Naim Maadad, Founding Member of the new Middle East Restaurant Association (MERA), reports the situation in the UAE. Restaurants and cafes have been open since the last week of April, although with strict restrictions to maintain the social distance of two meters between the tables and therefore operating with a limited maximum capacity compared to the usual number of seats. Seating times will have to be fixed within restaurants and the take away service will have to be actively encouraged, including in-room dining through hotel room service. Therefore the buffet system will no longer be allowed for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner. However – points out Naim Maadad – delivery for restaurants will not be the only source of profit. There are fast food chains that can switch over more effectively as the brands are renowned for delivery option even before the pandemic. For fine dine restaurants – the delivery will hugely affect the experience and the menu has to be re-created to include items that would travel the delivery distance without losing its taste. Fine dining restaurants would only make miniscule revenue and would not be a path of sustenance for the industry. It is just an interim arrangement to survive the pandemic.”

Italy towards Phase 3
Encouraging and successful examples from the world of fine dining arrive from Italy, that is now hoping to soon enter the so called “phase 3”. During the months of lockdown, the delivery seemed to be the only anchor of salvation, thus inevitably losing the experience lived on site and the menu had to be “modified” for transportation needs. A few weeks before the reopening, bars and restaurants developed alternative solutions, in full respect of the health regulations in force. Some of the great names of the Italian starred restaurants carefully analysed the situation and proposed innovative formulas to entice customers to start eating out again, such as the “restaurant bond”, that is a “pay one get two” voucher, expendable until the end of the year, or online bookings with 20% discount rates.

Once the phase 2 finally started, the next step was to manage the resources, without changing the style of a starred menu: customers shown a strong desire to return to the conviviality “in person”, while paying close attention to the safety and security aspects and by giving priority to large spaces or outdoors. For this reason, many Italian starred restaurants have focused even more on quality and mise en place while also exploring new and interesting solutions in “outdoor” consumption. Here are some: take advantage of open air spaces or poolside in full respect of social distancing with a menu that speaks of renewed conviviality, with pizza and barbecue, always in fine dining style. With the arrival of the summer season, the restaurateurs are equipped with innovative ways to enjoy a dinner or a lunch, such as the “fine dining pic ninc” or “in Berber tent” tastings. So what will the world of post-Covid catering look like? No one knows for sure, but probably the changes dictated at first by necessity, will be incorporated into the “new normal”, proving this highly social value sector to be vibrant and capable of generating innovation.

The next edition of HostMilano will take place from 22 to 26 October 2021.