Surviving Covid-19

Posted Wednesday, 17 June 2020

The end of March signaled a significant shift in Nigeria. When every business was ordered to shut down due to the virus that was ravaging the world, everything had to change. Restaurants, however, were essential, so they were given the privilege to maintain their operations, but at what cost? They, too, had to make major changes in order to survive and ensure the safety of their customers. And so they quickly shifted gears, putting in place measures to keep going with deliveries and take-aways, which came at great expense.

The restaurant business in Lagos had started to boom five years ago, when an investment in opening a restaurant was not just a small side business, but a full fledged, heart and soul investment. This is when Lagosians really started to explore the restaurant scene, and dining out became a weekly, and for some, even more frequent experience. Restaurants were investing not only in their space, but also in training their staff, in their chefs, in their ingredients and so much more, and customers took notice. Over the years more and more restaurants, cafes, bars and clubs have opened up to meet the increasing demand. 

Then suddenly everything changed. In an instant that demand disappeared and restaurants had to make the difficult decision to either stay open or close. So many factors played a part in this decision: Could they house their staff? Was it worth staying open? Could they start delivering? How would they pivot to meet these new demands? Some just couldn’t! Restaurants that opened just on the brink of the mandatory shut-down simply could not compete with those which already had a loyal following and delivery services already in place. This devastating blow had monumental effects on thousands of businesses. The nature of the restaurant industry is reliant on many factors for its success, especially in Lagos. Restaurants rely heavily on word of mouth, on the dine-in experience and the service that ultimately comes with walking into a restaurant and walking out satisfied. This is all lost during the shut-down. New strategies had to be put in place. But how do you replicate that experience? This is where ingenuity plays a big role. Many had no option; they had to adapt in order to survive; failing simply was not an option. In record time, they changed their business models. Even if it was temporary, they were now delivery and take-away restaurants only. Gone were the concerns about table placement, interior design, lighting and service. What mattered now was: How was your food packaged? Was it done with all safety measures in place? How strong was your social media presence? But the bigger concern was, will people still order food? 

It is believed that it takes 21 days to form a habit, and after over 63 days in confinement, delivery is the new norm. We are discovering a new side to restaurants, and customers are judging them accordingly. Throughout this process they’ve had to make great investments to allow them to operate, from dealing with delivery companies who sometimes charge up to 30% commission and designing and sourcing packaging for their foods; to dealing with keeping their staff employed, housed and safe while complying with government regulations. Some have adjusted their menus, added new items, and removed some items that don’t travel well. And their customers are now asking new questions: How quickly will my food arrive? What’s the packaging like? Are my fries soggy? Does a T-Bone steak travel well? How are they keeping my food safe to ensure the virus doesn’t enter into my home? 

Over time, restaurants have fine tuned their delivery service, with some getting creative and offering value-add to keep their customers happy. The Flowershop Cafe sends handwritten notes to their customers. Eric Kayser offers special meal deals. La Taverna has put in a take-away slot in their gate to avoid delivery people coming onto their premises. Slow, having opened a week before the lockdown, does family meals. Most are doing whatever they can to keep their staff employed. As with most things, restaurants have adapted, customers are adapting and new alliances have formed.

During this period, a coalition of over 100 restaurants, cafes, bars and clubs, have come together to share guidelines, ideas and stories of how their delivery bikes were stopped, stolen and harassed. They are their own advocates and are not giving in to the virus. Together they are finding solutions to the questions: What happens next? How to reopen? How to build confidence in their customers and keep their establishments, staff and customers safe? How to survive the unknown timeline of the pandemic. 

With uncertainties still very much part of our daily lives, we are grateful to these establishments who, with everything against them, have been able to keep going, keeping us fed and allowing us a sense of normalcy. Being able to have our favourite meals during this frightening time is a comfort. So this Spot of the Month is dedicated to all the establishments who have stayed strong, and to those who are struggling. Keep strong! 

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