With the excitement building around the reopening of hospitality and being able to welcome customers back in, I’m sure you’re ready and eagerly anticipating the rush. But what else can you do to deliver an extraordinary experience and give your customers a reason to come back?

I don’t know about you, but I took part in Eat Out to Help Out. After what seemed like a lifetime, I enjoyed going out again, but I couldn’t help feeling just a little disappointed with the scaled-down menus. While I understand the reasons for turning stock and keeping things moving, I just felt underwhelmed.

In July 2020, I spent six days straight in a business hotel with an attached restaurant. The terms of my contract obliged me to eat in the hotel, but their limited breakfast and dinner menus were already stale by day two. 

I ended up going out to explore local restaurants to alleviate the boredom. I have a confession to make; I only eat plant-based food, so I’m never going to be the easiest of customers to please!

The upshot is that I chose to eat out from the hotel four evenings of the six, and I paid out of my pocket to do so. Which meant the hotel restaurant missed out.

I ate breakfast in the hotel every day, which was limited by COVID-19. Yes, I got “oh sorry sir, we don’t have oat milk” and “the vegan sausages haven’t turned up”. But on the third day, the manager went to the local store and bought the missing products himself. Good for him; excellent service won the day even if the supplier was struggling to meet demand.

The reason for my stay was that I was handing over a brand new kitchen to a chef team and putting the menu and kit through its paces. I asked the guys where I could get a decent meal, and one of the chefs recommended the local Chinese take away which did terrific food. 

To my surprise, this little restaurant was able to pretty much mimic their menu in a vegan offering substituting with vegan prawn, chicken, beef, and pork options. There was enough variety that I ate there three more times! Bear in mind that I was pulling 12-hour days and what I really wanted to do was stay in the hotel and chill.

But this got me thinking; the one thing I love about being a chef and the catering industry as a whole is our ability to change and adapt as a business goes through difficult circumstances. And oh boy, has COVID-19 had a devastating impact on our business! But as we come out of this challenging time, let’s keep the customer’s expectations up to pre-COVID-19 times.

Stay ahead of the competition and give your customers a reason to come back.

Good luck!

Contributed by Paul Hunt, Development Chef, food stylist and chef trainer with 40 years of experience working in the UK and Europe