What life looks like seven weeks into the lockdown

A chat with business owner and chef Malcolm Gill

March 23 marks the day that all foodservice venues were forced to close their doors to all dine-in customers. A day that will be remembered and felt by hospitality professionals long after restrictions are lifted. But even with all of the pain, struggle and uncertainty that the day delivered, we’re now 7 weeks on and hopeful.

Not because we can see a way out, but because we can see a way forward.

Waking up each day and moving forward with the everyday ‘grind’ is a tough ask, but it’s essential to keeping the industry alive says Shady Palms owner and professional chef Malcolm Gill.

“Look, it’s a really difficult time right now. No one could ever imagine something like this happening. It’s not about making money at the moment, it’s about surviving. But the response from the community has been phenomenal so far and it’s not just the customers, it’s the whole industry coming together,” says Mal.

Shady Palms Café & Bar has long been a staple hangout spot for residents of Stones Corner, Brisbane. But since the restrictions were laid down, the once bustling bar has been forced to change the way it operates.

“We’ve had to revise and restrict our menu quite a bit. A big portion of what we offer now is stuff like burgers and pizza, because it’s really about what travels best. Burgers are probably our biggest seller right now.”

“Something else we’ve noticed working well is deli-style services. Sandwiches, filled rolls and bits like that are proving really popular with people looking to limit interaction outside of their bubble. You can catch people on their daily walk who aren’t wanting to wait around on the street for an order. It’s as simple as grabbing your sandwich and on you go. It’s something that we’re looking to do more of for sure,” Mal explains.

On top of redesigning their menu, Shady’s local quizmaster has taken their successful weekly trivia night online. With a viewership of over 2,000 strong on some nights, they’re actually attracting more people than before the lockdown began.

It’s fair to assume that every venue currently operating has changed their business model quite substantially. The lines separating retail and foodservice are now more or less non-existent.

With venues experimenting and exploring any avenue to help keep things afloat, it’s a wonder as to what the industry could look like post-COVID-19. So, we asked our friend Mal to give his take on what he sees for the future of foodservice, as well as which of these changes are likely to stick around.

“At Shady’s we’re expecting things to remain slow for some time. Even when restrictions are eased, we think there will be fewer customers to what was normal before all of this. People will still be wary of leaving their homes.”

“Customer health and safety is a key element to consider for anyone wanting to be successful from now on. All health and safety within the workplace should be a major focus. So, get used to the spray bottles and facemasks, those aren’t going anywhere” Mal suggests.

The future of foodservice is certainly a little foggy right now, but everyday stories are being written of heroes in hospo forging a path to follow by doing all that they can to help one another. Tales of chefs casting their own struggles aside to cook meals for nurses and doctors. Customers tipping that little bit extra, looking beyond their own financial hardship to keep their favourite café afloat. Business owners jumping on bikes to help move delivery orders. On paper, the end of March marked the start of social distancing restrictions, but in a sense since then the foodservice community has become closer than ever.

Never down and out, but instead looking up and forward into the unknown outcomes of what could follow tomorrow’s sunrise. We’d like to again thank all of our customers who continue to support what we do every day, we’re certainly proud to be a part of a strong and positive foodservice movement. Our best wishes go out to you. #hospitalitystrong

If you’d like to learn more about how Shady Palms is combatting the challenges of lockdown, you can visit their Facebook page. Mal is also creating a series of weekly recipes, suited for takeaway and delivery, which feature on our Instagram @tiptopfoodservice. So follow along for some of his latest inspiration!