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10 post-Covid trends here to stay in the Asian F&B industry

Marriott International, one of the world’s leading hotel groups, recently published a report on the new F&B trends in Asia that it says are here to stay in the wake of the pandemic.

Covid-19 brought in a host of unforeseeable factors that upended the dining and drinks industry around the world. However, the devastating situation also ignited counter solutions and innovations. Marriott International spoke to a select list of key opinion leaders, namely restaurateurs, chefs and barkeepers, in key Asian cities, including Bangkok, Beijing, Hong Kong, Perth, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney, Taipei and Tokyo, to gather their insights on the near future of the industry in the post-pandemic era.

The report pointed out 10 new emerging trends to watch as suggested by the industry insiders.

‘Revenge spending’ vs New frugality

Since the start of this year, many Asian countries have been through a lockdown to some degree. F&B operators in Hong Kong saw a positive increase in reservations from April to July this year and a subsequent small surge in spending along with it, although in July the government imposed a short-lived ban on dining in before lifting it again. Other cities, such as Shanghai and Bangkok, have followed this same ‘revenge spending’ pattern once local restrictions were lifted; however, this did not happen in Singapore.

The two-month long circuit breaker in the city results in the drop of sales from people dining out and drinking in short term. As firms are adopting to telecommuting, Sarissa Rodriguez-Schwartz, co-founder of SJS Group, said there is a significant fall in lunch sales, yet destination diners catering to social engagements and special occasions will fare better.

However, as the economy dives into a deep recession, consumers may halt impulse and extravagant spending to increase their savings. Restaurant and bar operators should get prepared to create relevant experiences for this demographic.

Rise in takeaway

chinese takeaway

According to figures from Statista, as of 26 August the percentage of seated diners in restaurants worldwide has declined by 35% year-on-year. Those who prefer dining at home safely are fuelling the growth of the meal delivery business with creative options such as meal kits, bottled cocktails and gourmet produce from online farmers’ markets.

This delivery model is expected to continue expanding in the region. China was already the largest market for on-demand food delivery in the world pre-pandemic with a value of US$85.4 billion in 2019. As market research firm dataSpring reported, the food delivery market in Southeast Asia is expected to grow exponentially from US$2 billion in 2018 to US$8 billion in 2025 as a result of the pandemic.

Agung Prabowo, former co-founder of The Old Man Hong Kong, also observed that not many drinkers are currently, “drinking too much or letting loose over multiple shots at the bar” as they did before, because they are becoming used to practicing restraint, maintaining a sense of social responsibility, and reducing vulnerability to disease and illness.

A new way of fine dining

As economic anxiety remains high, the little touches from F&B operators can be critical for them to thrive. Stephan Zoisl, chef and founder of Chef’s Table by Chef Stephan, notes that: “Diners will appreciate the small details that they can’t get from delivery meals, so dine-in will need to step up its game in terms of service.”

Chef Shintaro Miyazaki of one Michelin-starred Azure 45 at The Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo suggests personalised service, for example, knowing the preference of guests and remembering the dishes that were offered during their last visit so repeat customers will never get bored, is becoming more important as diners are now more sensitive to little details.

Vivian Pei, senior academy chair for The World’s 50 Best reckons: “High-end restaurants that have more casual offerings will continue to do well because people are looking for affordable luxury.”

We saw clues of this future of the industry as some of the greatest chefs around the world had already demonstrated, such as Rene Redzepi, who reopened Noma Copenhagen, a four-time World’s 50 Best Restaurant winner, as a wine and burger joint, with picnic tables set up in its spring garden; Daniel Boulud has moved his two Michelin-starred Restaurant Daniel in New York outdoors and created a “more approachable, more casual” menu, admitting that with the current economic climate, he doesn’t see the necessity of serving dishes with caviar.

The urge to stop waste

A study from the National University of Singapore revealed that an extra 1,334 tonnes of plastic waste, equivalent to the weight of 92 double-decker buses, were generated from takeaway and delivery meals during the two-month circuit breaker period in Singapore.

In Thailand, the volume of plastic waste has increased by 15%, in tandem with the rise in food delivery services. This increase equates to 6,300 tonnes of plastic waste compared to 5,500 tonnes being produced before the pandemic.

It is understandable that diners and businesses will consider safety and cost before sustainability in a challenging time like Covid. However, operators should look into switching to sustainable biodegradable containers wherever possible. In China, single-use and non-degradable plastic bags will be banned in all major cities by the end of this year and disposable plastic straws by 2021. By 2025, all towns and cities must reduce the consumption of single-use plastic items in the restaurant industry by 30%.

Other than single-use containers and utensils, food waste, water and electricity conservation are as well the area that F&B operators should be aware of. For instance, Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park is donating surplus food to a local NGO that distributes the resources to the community.

A new future for communal dining?

Most Asian cultures practise communal dining as a way of sharing a sense of closeness and affection among family and friends. In face of the threats posed by the virus, industry insiders are expecting substantial tweaks to the format.

China for instance launched a “communal chopsticks” campaign earlier this year to educate and encourage its citizens to use communal chopsticks when dining out.

The future of self-serve buffets, another popular dining option across Asia, is also left in doubt as there are multiple touchpoints at the counters.

Rethinking the supply chain – go local

Industry operators with existing relationships with local producers didn’t experience trouble in getting their supply of ingredients during the pandemic. However, restaurants and bars in markets that need to import the bulk of their ingredients face severe challenges.

Singapore, for instance, imports 90% of its produce. Andrew Yap of The Old Man bar in Singapore shared his experience, “certain spirits and produce either take a longer period to arrive, or are harder to come by due to domestic needs.

For example, the kaffir lime we use, only certain suppliers have their hands on it. Spirits that used to take one week to clear customs now require three. There’s no substitute for these products unless you change the menu.”

It may be the time, therefore, for F&B businesses to really begin supporting small businesses, farmers, and fishermen as much as possible, or to consider creating rooftop gardens and zero-waste kitchen.

Expand local markets

Eateries and bars that used to relying on tourist arrivals have needed to quickly shift their approach to chase local dollars in order to remain viable during this period.

As for hotels, they are encountering the double challenges of filling hotel rooms that used to be occupied by tourists, and the need to market their own F&B brands to compete with independent restaurants and bars for a slice of the local market.

Ralph Frehner, vice president of Design Development Operations of Marriott International, Asia Pacific, has been creating new eatery and bar concepts for the hotel group.

He said: “We have always focused on the local market because we realised that only around 20% to 30% of customers in our restaurants are in-house guests. We do not build restaurants to the hotel brand, rather we match the concepts to the local community and market”.

Technology and AI application

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, restaurants and bars across the world have integrated extensive technological solutions, namely QR code menus and contactless ordering and payment systems, as part of safe dining measures.

Although Emmanuel Stroobant, chef-owner of two Michelin-starred restaurant Saint Pierre in Singapore, believes technology and AI may be good solutions for back-of-the house systems and to manage large delivery orders, the personal touch is still required in front of house situations as diners still want to be served by people in a high-end restaurant setting.

On the other hand, the application of AI will undoubtedly become more widespread as it will help generate cost-efficiencies and develop data-proven strategies to improve business from customer service to waste management.

Thrive on creativity

Food consultant and freelance writer David Yip observes that as most businesses will focus on the recovery of profits and operational costs – dining trends that emerge will be those that strike a balance between creativity and profitability.

In fact, during the pandemic, the industry around the world has been responding quickly, for example by stretching lunch and dinner hours and keeping to shorter menus.

Virtual dining experiences were launched where chefs, sommeliers and mixologists interacted with their guests via virtual platforms. Some restaurants and bars “co-work” in the same space and combined their businesses into one dining experience, which helped to shoulder the cost of rent and marry the strengths of their business.

Closer bonding in the industry

Over 90% of the industry insiders interviewed for this report believe that the F&B community will be more tight-knit after the pandemic and the industry will see more collaborations.

Covid has given rise to a couple of fund-raising initiatives, including 50 Best for Recovery, Singapore Cocktail Bar Association, #savefnbsg and #savehkfnb.

The major objectives of these organisations are to help provide financial relief to workers in the industry, create and collate helpful resources for F&B businesses and stand as the collective voice for F&B establishments in the region. In the Bid for Recovery Auction held by 50 Best for Recovery, they raised more than £937,000 for the Recovery Fund, which will be used to provide monetary aid to restaurants and bars.

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