These are unprecedented times – but there are ways in which restaurants, bars and the rest of the wine world can work to improve the situation.
For even the most experienced wine industry veteran, Covid-19 represents a unique and very difficult problem. It’s impossible to argue that a shutdown of restaurants and other places where people congregate isn’t justified, because many of the most vulnerable people in society could die from the virus – but it does put these establishments’ futures at risk. Yes, it’s a secondary problem, but that doesn’t make it any less stressful for the restaurateurs, bar owners and sommeliers whose professional futures now look to be in jeopardy.
Nothing can make the situation go away, or improve it immediately, but there are things that can be done. It’s important to be both compassionate and innovative. The key now is to make sure as many people as possible get through this unharmed, and then, all being well, there’ll be plenty of time for celebration – and wine, of course, is much better able to sit out a shutdown like this than, for example, beer. Here’s five thoughts on how you might help your business through this tough time:
1. Be Inventive
This is not a typical situation, and it does not call for typical solutions. For those who have built up strong relationships with customers and the local community, now could be the time to gently suggest they invest in their future enjoyment. For restaurants, that could be in the form of vouchers for future meals and drinks, or even something more inventive. Can you sell vouchers for future wine experiences, whether that be, for example, ‘A Taste of Burgundy’, or ‘Riesling Around the World’, to be redeemed at some point in the future? Customers are surely keen for something to look forward to. For distributors, it’s a question of how you make it easy for customers to get their hands on your product without endangering themselves. Your customers still want to drink. How do you get it to their door? Can you or another company deliver, legally?
2. Be Realistic
These are tough times for the hospitality industry, and for those who work in wine. But others will have it much worse; people are dying, and you shouldn’t be too vocal about your own problems when others are clearly much worse. Focus on your staff, and what you can do to help them – that level of care will be repaid when you’re able to open again and customers get a great experience from salesmen, women, sommeliers and waiting staff who have been shown their value at the toughest of times.
3. Be Sympathetic
We’re entering a period when the qualities that hospitality abounds in will become valuable in a new way. If local people are struggling, how can you help? It probably won’t involve wine, but do you have skills that can help alleviate the situation? Can you support local healthcare, or elderly people who can’t leave their homes? Many of the best restaurants sit at the centre of their community, and this is an opportunity to demonstrate how much you care. When better days come, your most important customers won’t have forgotten.
4. Be Engaged
It’s absolutely crucial that restaurateurs, importers and wine professionals are engaged with political representatives at all levels during this crisis. Be clear and calm, and state what your problems are. If your business is at risk – whether you’re a restauranteur, a wine importer or something else – you owe it to yourself and your staff to investigate how the government can help. No-one wants hospitality as we know it to collapse.
5. Be Optimistic
It’s a dreadful time, but optimism breeds confidence in you, your staff and your business. Be proactive on social media; stay in touch with your customers; and focus, as much as is possible, on when this crisis will be over. No-one expects it to be easy, but if you can make it through the spectre of Covid-19, everything else will seem much easier.