With the on-set of UK lockdown and the effective closure of a large proportion of foodservice and hospitality businesses, foodservice focused brands find themselves in a tough position. What is the right thing to do?

As with anything in life you can only make decisions with the information you have at the time and as we all know there are no definitives with Corvid 19. How long will we be in lock down? How long will we see social distancing and the closure of hospitality businesses? Will schools and universities go back in September? Will the Covid 19 crisis change consumer eating habits in the long term, with more people moving to delivery services? Or will they, having been cooped-up for so long, go out every night and day making the most of their precious freedom driving an eating out boom? (We can only hope!) Will home baking see a further upsurge, as those in lock down rediscover their love for it? Will more consumers use meal kit delivery services having tried them for the first time as a desperate measure to get food during supermarket shortages? The truth is nobody has a crystal ball and nobody really knows (frankly if they had that crystal ball we might have all been a bit more prepared for this!). Of course the most important thing at the moment is survival. Without being too bleak this is a life or death situation, so we have a responsibility to sit tight and do what we can to get through this.

So, lots of questions and not many answers, but as with all things in life when you have no definites its best to go back to principles and beliefs. If as a brand you come from a good place, you keep communicating and be kind, you put yourself in your customers’ shoes and make it about them not you and do whatever you can to help them (and we appreciate this may be limited in reality, as you too fight to survive commercially), you won’t go far wrong.

Be considered, be sensitive, think before you act, but as the Chancellor would say ‘don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good’ as in times like this agility is crucial. Be flexible and adapt plans to our new reality, but continue to plan for a time when all this is behind us, because as with all things – it will pass. Don’t make knee-jerk reactions and panic. Think what you can do, not what you can’t. Re-focus on sectors that are up and running, but don’t forget those who are closed and need to know you are there for them. One of our clients, who will remain nameless, put it best when they told staff: ‘We have been around for over 200 years, we have been through wars and recessions, this is a bump in the road and we will get through it. If you can’t do what you have planned to do, do all the things you can do, groundwork, planning, set-up and all the things that you usually don’t have time to focus on in order to put us in the best possible place once we are out the other end’.

Brands will be remembered for what they do in these times of crisis – for doing the right thing. Those who try to exploit it, will I am sure, ultimately find their customers turning against them, whilst those who work with customers and do their best with the right intentions will hopefully find renewed loyalty with those they have supported. So whether it’s a care package to chefs, or free stock to experiment with while they are busy in their home kitchen keeping their skills alive, listening to them and trying to get a better understanding of their challenges whilst they have time on their hands to tell you, or by simply carrying out random acts of kindness, do what you can now whilst planning for a better tomorrow. It’s a truism that you will always remember those who were there for you when you weren’t on top and it is no different for brands.

But whatever you do, don’t stop communicating. If nothing else this crisis has shown us how important communication is and, when we can’t communicate face to face, how technology comes into its own (that, and that we’ve been washing our hands all wrong!). Whether it’s video calls, social media, WhatsApp groups, online trade press and email updates, these can all be harnessed to keep the lines of brand communication in place. Never more so has the foodservice and hospitality audience been engaged online and with social media, as they turn to these media channels for news and to keep in touch with the industry they love, so be part of the conversation in a positive way. We are a vibrant and passionate sector and we have taken a big (and unprecedented) hit with Coronavirus, but we will bounce back and those brands that do the right thing will be remembered for it.

Stay home, stay safe, but keep talking.

If you need advice or guidance with your communications into the foodservice and hospitality market please do get in touch susan@jellybeancreative.co.uk – it’s business as usual at Jellybean (if remotely). Equally if you are a member of Arena and you want to share a positive story around the Covid 19 crisis please get in touch with Lorraine who you can reach at lorraine@arena.org.uk