An opinion piece by Leo Dovbenko, Co-Founder UAE Restaurant Community and CEO of Tawreed.co
I think we can all agree that the past year was very challenging for restaurateurs not just in the UAE and that, even though things are on the up again in many locations, we still feel and process the after-effects of the lock-downs and pandemic-induced impacts on our businesses. Restaurateurs in Dubai were relatively lucky, because, after the initial strict lockdown, the Emirate opened up again gradually and carefully, so the recovery could start. Others, for example in Abu Dhabi, Oman, or India were more seriously affected with longer or multiple lock-downs and heavy, frequently changing, reopening guidelines. As an industry, we rose to the challenge and continued to do what we are here to do – provide guests with fine food and drinks and, hopefully, making their day a little tastier and brighter. It wasn’t always easy, though, and we all know restaurants, which didn’t survive the pandemic. Many others that did are now operating quite differently than before COVID-19 hit.
Concerns and challenges have shifted a lot over the past year. Initially, restaurants were forced to quickly pivot from dining-in operations to delivery-only operations, juggle new hygiene and social distancing guidelines, and make the most of the shorter opening hours. In the meantime, those that survived the pandemic, face different problems. International arrivals are still lagging behind pre-pandemic levels and in many markets, restaurants compete for fewer, often financially more aware, diners. In many locations, finding new employees to replace those who left the industry during the downturn, is proving far more challenging than anticipated, forcing restaurants to open shorter hours or requiring existing employees to work longer hours. Likewise, consumer habits have changed and delivery now makes up a far larger share of the total business for many restaurants than dine-in and “dark brands” have become the new normal for many diners.
An area that has been heavily affected, too, but is often overlooked by restaurateurs is stock control and inventory management. Your goods are incredibly valuable. You can’t just acquire inventory. You have to safeguard, store, and manage it. I feel that all too often, restaurateurs are looking to save money “front of house” rather than focusing on areas “back of house” that potentially hold far bigger savings. Driven by the COVID-19 effects on businesses, I can see a few inventory and stock management trends emerge, which restaurateurs should probably pay attention to over the course of the coming year.
Predictive ordering and picking is one of these trends I’m personally most excited about. Imagine knowing what your guests are likely to order next week or the week after and then just buying in exactly the ingredients needed. Thanks to artificial intelligence, this is entirely possible. Using unstructured data to recognize patterns and interdependencies and predict behaviour means you can effectively order produce and ingredients “on-demand”. One of my own businesses, Tawreed.co has just moved to “on-demand” delivery of fresh and frozen produce and it’s a gamechanger.
Equally, the continued popularity of delivery and online ordering means that restaurants don’t just compete on quality and price, but also speed – in other words, we need to become nimbler if we want to increase our sales. Changing offers several times per day, using the same ingredients in several different dishes, and allowing diners to customize their orders more are all part of this trend. Less storage space means more space for your operations and to make money, so we need suitable inventory management systems to successfully balance between preventing stock-outs and reducing carrying costs.
Traditional ordering and working with suppliers are bound to change a great deal over the coming months. You can no longer afford to waste time receiving multiple deliveries from suppliers every day because your employees have better things to do. Equally, if you’re forced to react to competitors latest online offers, you may need new ingredients quickly and can’t wait until this time tomorrow. Now is the right time to start taking stock control, inventory management, and purchasing more seriously and to look at whether how you do things really benefits your operations, balance sheet, and guests.