One year on from Covid-19: what can the foodservice industry expect?

Since the government announced its roadmap out of lockdown and the gradual easing of restrictions, the foodservice and hospitality industries have been focused on reopening their doors (for outdoor service initially) from April 12th. Now many are able to get back to business, we’re taking a look back on the changes within our sector/s over the last year and what we suspect the plan for recovery might look like as we exit ‘lockdown life’. 

It’s been challenging for everyone but the frequent changes in restrictions, especially for hospitality have made weathering this storm incredibly complicated. Despite millions spent investing in covid-secure processes such as plexi-glass dividers, sanitising stations, moves to takeaway or table service only, the industry was forced to close at the start of the pandemic and several times since. 

Understandably there was some caution around reopening too fast, but with such significant improvements made to make venues safe and spacious, hospitality businesses are able to welcome back customers safely, with the rule of six and social distancing measures still in place, plus PPE for staff. 

As an employer of 2.9 million people and generator of £130bn in economic activity, reopening (even for just outdoor dining) is a major step in the right direction, not only for aiding those within the industry but also in terms of contributing towards the UK’s economic recovery.

Hope is on the horizon for continued progress towards normality, with the vaccine rollout and rumours of various spending incentives to help businesses get back on track as things open up. We’re on track to be dining indoors from 17th May, should things continue to align with the government’s roadmap to recovery. 

What can we expect in the coming months? 

Naturally, it’s very hard to make firm predictions, but the success of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme last summer was a strong barometer of public feeling towards a return to hospitality. With such a long and hard lockdown over winter, it is fair to assume that the easing of lockdown restrictions, coupled with the arrival of spring and summer, means we’re likely to see a huge surge in demand for eating out at times outside typical peak hours. We also expect a rise in food-to-go, as people seek to get out and about, connect with friends and generally make the most of warmer months, while possibly managing some nervousness around indoor socialising. 

Brands have been looking to these prospective dates since the announcement of the government’s roadmap and summer menus have been high on the list of priorities. Based on trends over the last year covered in Mintel’s Global Food and Drink 2021 Report, what opportunities can we expect to see that food and beverage businesses should seize?:

Trend: A more health conscious consumer. 

Opportunity: Adapt your menus to incorporate healthy, nutritious dishes that are more interesting than a house salad or bun-free burger. Use a variety of nutrient-dense  ingredients, high in protein, with lots of colourful veggies and sauces or dressings that add a real depth of flavour. You could even offer healthier versions of your classic dishes, swapping out some of the higher calorie, high fat ingredients with lighter options.

Trend: A rise in vegan and flexitarian diets.

Opportunity: Incorporate a combination of meat substitutes and whole food based dishes to cater to those looking to cut down on or cut out meat. From bean and lentil burgers, to patties that taste, look and even smell of their meaty counterparts, offer a range of delicious, flavourful vegan dishes. 

Long gone are the days where only one or two vegan-friendly options were available on a menu, offering a wide selection will not only make you popular with vegans and vegetarians, but also the rising number of flexitarians in the UK. For more insight into the rise of plant-based and flexitarian diets, read our blog

Trend: Low alcohol beverages.

Opportunity: As demand continues to grow for low and no alcohol drinks, be sure to stock your bar with a range of low/no alcohol beers, wines and spirits – you could even create a collection of alcohol free cocktails. 

There’s loads to choose from – whether you go for the major, household name labels or smaller, independent businesses – it could be a great opportunity to support a fellow local business operating within the beverage market. Also look to expand your soft drink offering, building upon the standard coke or lemonade with flavoured sparkling waters like DASH, which are made with wonky fruit that would have otherwise been sent to landfill.  

Not only will these drinks prove popular with the growing number of people looking to cut down on their drinking or stop drinking altogether, they’ll also be a huge hit with designated drivers. 

What will venues and outlets look like? 

Vaccination success is very welcome and will certainly help confidence in returning to venues and pubs, but it doesn’t negate the need for a lot of the practices we were starting to see before this last lockdown. Expect mask wearing to remain for some time while walking through venues, as well as the dividers, screens and sanitising stations we saw last year. 

The fact is, to keep moving forward, a lot of these rules are needed and if adhered to, provide a chance for our sector to open up in a way that should be, we hope, irreversible. 

With pubs, bars and restaurants already inundated with bookings for the coming months as reported by The Guardian, the hospitality industry will need to master shouting the loudest, listening to what people want and delivering on that within the rules we’re given! From small plates and low alcohol drink options, to summer-inspired dishes and cocktails catering to those craving a trip abroad, there’s lots businesses can do to not only draw the customers in but also keep them coming back. 

Stay tuned for further forecast, trends and insights.