BRUSSELS: A few days ago, I received an email from a reader of the newsletter which we send out every Sunday morning. A long email with personal reflections on how the restaurant and wine world has changed in just a few weeks. Go back to February and few if any could possibly imagine what we have been through over the past weeks.
There were many questions without any answers. They were all pertinent questions as to what the future of the food and wine world would look like.
As a former news journalist, my reaction every time there is a crisis is to read as much as I can. You could call me a news addict or junkie. And over the first few days I had what could be described as writers block though in reality it was not writers block but rather a feeling of pointlessness.
But as time went by, I tried to delve into depicting best practices from around the world. It is a small way of raising awareness, of giving ideas to restauranteurs and people in the restaurant business and also among customers as to what is happening in the food and wine world.
Today, I am asking for your help. Under the #Whatnext hashtag, I want to explore ideas of what the food, restaurant and wine world will look like in the weeks, months and years to come.
Most of you will probably have more questions than answers. Many will be experimenting which is logical in times of crisis. Some experiments will stick, others will not work but failing is better than copying.
So with this in mind, I am opening this platform to you readers to ask the questions and come up with ideas, however crazy they might be.
What if a restaurant used its space 24×7?
And I am the first to go with one which is so far off that it was not selected for discussion at the MAD Symposium. A few years ago, they asked for possible submissions to round table discussions and I submitted this one.
What if a restaurant is more than a restaurant I asked? What if it used and maximised its space so that it can operate 24×7? Is this possible? Could it work? And how could it function?
Could a fine dining restaurant in the evening be converted into a coffee shop in the morning and maybe a casual lunch place? Could it be a place where customers could pick their produce directly from the restaurant? Could the restaurant serve more than just a place that serves guests for dinner but rather be a purveyor of fine foods?
To me it seemed obvious that the restaurant model as it was could not be sustainable. Apart from staff costs that are of course considerable, there is also the issue of rent costs or the cost of the space. Could a business that operates on such tight margins afford to keep a space closed for one or two evenings let alone two days on the weekend for example?
That got me thinking. I bounced off the idea with a few chefs and friends and there seemed to be a myriad of problems linked to this. How the operation would work in practice, would the space be ‘sub-let’, what do you do with the different stocks that are needed and how do you cater for staff who have to work longer hours when the industry needed more work-life balance.
The idea, however, is not that of overworking staff but rather to give them the possibility to have flexibility. What if they wanted to work longer days and have more days off. Or else they needed to work mornings for a period of time? Or a mix?
What if the space is given to a staff member to operate during holidays? Or when the chef is away, the younger staff can experiment with their own concept?
With COVID 19 bringing devastation to restaurants as we know them, is it time to rethink the restaurant?
Of course, a new approach with COVID-19 in the picture is not something we can imagine. But could we use this crisis to think of a new future. Isn’t it time to think first about the staff, to offer them the best possible flexibility and opportunity and to change the ‘Escoffier’ method of an ‘army kitchen’?
When René Redzepi says that we need to rethink the restaurant and noma might need to reopen as a wine bar, when the team of Massimo Bottura try to offer their food hundreds of kilometres away shouldn’t we at least be discussing how the restaurant of tomorrow will look like?
Many people are hinting that long menus are over at least for the time being, that people will be spending less time at table. Isn’t it time to think outside the box and think from a blank slate?
If we are to think sustainably, if we want restaurants to survive is there a different way to what we have at the moment?
Can a restaurant be a hub that involves more than just feeding people. Could we pick bread, a dessert or cake for home from the restaurant? Could we choose our wines from the wine cellar of the restaurant with maybe a recommendation from the sommelier?
Can a restaurant or restaurants team up with producers to offer them a space. The restaurant will become the centre of something bigger and which ensures that there is no waste? The future will reward economies of scale.
Going forward we may have to rethink everything. Maybe now is the time.