How Ryan Bishti Rules the London Food Scene Even Amid the Pandemic
London’s restaurant industry has had a rough go of it since 2020. The challenges of COVID-19 continue to evolve, and restaurant owners have had to evolve with them, but many are uncertain how to ensure success in 2022.
Restaurant entrepreneur Ryan Bishti has a few words of advice for London’s restaurant owners. Bishti is no stranger to overcoming pandemic-related challenges in the restaurant industry. His latest restaurant, The Windmill Soho, opened in July 2021, smack-dab in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, and continues to thrive today. Likewise, his Knightsbridge restaurant, Restaurant Ours, opened its doors during the pandemic despite the many changes the restaurant had to adapt to in the past two years. Despite the challenges, both restaurants remain open and continue serving guests. Their success rides on four key components that Bishti recommends restaurant owners implement to achieve 2022 success.
No. 1 Focus On The Consumer
Every restaurant knows that customers keep the doors open. But COVID-19 has severely reduced the consumer’s desire to go to restaurants; many feel it is dangerous and an unneeded expense to do so.
To address the consumer’s safety concerns, restaurant owners need to take steps to generate consumer confidence in their safety at the restaurant. For example, displaying COVID-19 precautions taken by the staff at the door and on social media can bring awareness to consumers of a restaurant’s dedication to safety.
When it comes to coaxing consumers out for a bite to eat, keep in mind their hesitancy for something they might see as an unnecessary luxury. Bishti recommends giving them a reason to return to the restaurant. Remind them that restaurants can provide a space for connection and delicious food that a home cannot — exclusivity sells. The less crowded, more intimate environment that has resulted from COVID-19 seating restrictions and table arrangements can work to a restaurant’s advantage. For example, servers can learn client names and provide a warm culture that encourages consumers to return for the friendly staff, intimate ambience, and quality cuisine.
No. 2 Invest in Your Staff
One significant issue facing the restaurant industry is a dwindling workforce. To keep restaurants successful in 2022, Bishti notes that investing in staff is a must. But how does a restaurant retain staff when costs of food, utilities, and service continue to go up? If possible, providing better wages and benefits helps encourage workers to stick around. Still, the reality is, workers tend to leave for reasons like poor management and workplace stress more than they do wages.
One prime reason restaurant workers leave the industry is maltreatment by consumers and management. Restaurant staff often must enforce COVID-19 regulations and restrictions, so it’s critical that staff members feel empowered and safe when implementing policies and mandates. One of Bishti’s suggestions is to give staff a clear hierarchy of actions and command to refer to if a consumer situation escalates. The hierarchy should also give employees directions for what to do when management is not abiding by policy or maltreating employees.
Burnout — from excessive hours, maltreatment, and/or low pay — is one of the main reasons staff have left the restaurant business. Restaurant owners should create a workplace that encourages and develops happy, skilled employees. Reducing stress by having enough servers on hand and ensuring time off for illness and personal days shows staff that they are valued in the workplace.
No. 3 Rethink the Restaurant’s Space and Service Area
Space is critical to a restaurant’s success: The larger the space, the more customers a restaurant can serve at a time. Unfortunately, COVID-19 restrictions have severely reduced the capacity of many restaurants in London. Ryan Bishti predicts that success in 2022 will rely on a restaurant owner’s ability to adapt their space and service area to the times.
Restaurant owners should start taking advantage of outdoor space. The U.K.’s licensing laws continue to remain in flux as the government allows restaurants to use terraces and outdoor seating areasto serve customers. Restaurant owners should take advantage of the streamlined licensing process put in place as a result of COVID-19.
To double down on increasing customer reach, Bisti recommends providing carry-out or delivery service where possible. Consumers less inclined to dine out are often more comfortable with takeout, and delivery services can help increase revenue where seating restrictions have caused reductions.
No. 4 Support Local Agriculture
The cost of food continues to spike as supply chains struggle during the pandemic. Restaurant owners know this better than anyone; for fear of losing customers, many of them struggle with choosing to raise prices or eat the increased costs themselves.
To combat escalating food prices, restaurant owners should consider local agriculture and food producers. Not only does using local foods support the local economy, but it can also generate positive community engagement, instill customer loyalty, and cut prices. Of course, Ryan Bishti acknowledges that local produce may not suit a restaurant’s usual menu. In this case, restaurant owners can consider rethinking their menu, perhaps offering locally grown dishes at lower prices alongside more expensive imported items.
The Government’s Role
It’s not just up to the restaurant owner to foster a successful 2022. The government needs to step in and continue to provide support for restaurants. Initiatives like the Reopening High Streets Safely Fund and the Eat Out to Help Out program have coaxed consumers back to restaurants. Still, new waves of the COVID-19 virus continue to cause restaurants to suffer inconsistent finances. It’s high time the government steps in to create a comprehensive tax relief program to keep the restaurant industry thriving in London.
However, getting movement to come out of government officials can pose a challenge in the best of times. Thus, restaurant owners should make their voices heard by appealing to their local council members and Parliament representatives.
As 2022 begins, London restaurant owners must adapt to the tumultuous times they live in. Implementing an approach that focuses on Ryan’s four key components can help them prepare for — and achieve — a successful year.