Eric Dee of Foodee Global Concepts.
Food & Drink Features

How resto group behind Mesa, local Tim Ho Wan is adapting to new rules of dining out

Foodee Global Concepts’ Eric Dee shares the hard lessons he has learned during the COVID-19 crisis and how his restaurant group has prepared for the reopening of dine-in services.
ANCX | Jun 25 2020

Over two months under various states of quarantine and the effects brought by the COVID-19 pandemic don’t seem to be going anywhere in the foreseeable future. Today, many of the things we took for granted—grocery shopping, visiting loved ones, dining out—all have to be done with much caution, if at all. The recent transition to a general community quarantine in the Philippines will see citizens itching to go outside, but also businesses itching to reopen once more.

 

The wrath of the pandemic

Before the announcement of the enhanced community quarantine, Eric Dee of Foodee Global Concepts (Mesa, Tim Ho Wan, Hawker Chan, Pound, and more) made the difficult decision to close 200 stores across the country. “It became the safest thing to do,” says Dee as he feels the responsibility for the safety of thousands of employees but also countless customers.

The country’s ECQ saw cities become ghost towns and restaurants big and small had to close their doors indefinitely. Many turned to technology as it became the world’s lifeline to the old normal. After a blip of closing down, delivery apps saw a rise in transactions and online ordering, or finding information to order food online, became the status quo. Though technology now plays a larger part in our lives than we thought, technology alone cannot save the restaurant  industry. A lifeline is useless without a life source; things have to translate into sales.

A nearly empty Bonifacio High Street.

Adaptation is the name of the game

Fortunate are those who will survive the wrath of the pandemic. ‘Support small businesses’ is something we will continue to hear more of as small brands with single branches are hanging on by a thread. And so the fundamentals of how restaurants are run must adapt. “Now is not the time to have a concrete plan. Have multiple scenarios and solutions to each one of them and be ready to launch all of them,” advises Dee, who was quick to make changes within his restaurants that have reopened so far.

Gloves and masks are now a given for safe food handling

“Restaurants need to learn to cut costs. You’re paying premium rent for a space you can’t use. We're dealing with a total paradigm shift of what you used to do and how you used to operate so we’re all going to have to adapt.” Kitchen cleanliness needs to triple, customer interaction has new limitations, and being part of the staff has new meaning. Restaurant staff that are fortunate enough to still have their jobs need to learn to multitask as food preparation and service standards will remain tightened. The restaurant industry is entering an entirely new era that no one was fully prepared for.

Hawker Chan outlets have opened for dine-in, with strict safety standards in place.

 

Onward and forward

The gravity of the pandemic was unprecedented but to move forward, one must be able to look at the silver lining. The restaurant industry is more safe, more hygienic than ever before. These practices are at the forefront of Foodee Global Concepts’ present operations. “Our strategy was to be exaggerated. You need to exaggerate your product and the safety measures you’re taking in order to get the word out, establish a new trust, and get people back.”

Foodee Global’s plans include social distancing inside his stores, temperature checks, UV light sterilization for high contact points, disinfection booths, and 30-minute alarms for hand washing. With the latest quarantine giving the go-signal to reopen restaurants for dine in, many are excited to bounce back but doing so is double edged; Dee says that the numbers [of cases] need to go down before even considering reopening in full.

All hungry eyes are open as the government allowed restaurants to reopen at 30% capacity starting June 15, provided they meet new health and safety protocols. Most of Foodee Global’s brands have reopened for dine-in, with all these protocols now in place. Since June 15, diners are slowly getting used to this new way of dining, which must now include temperature checks, contactless menus, partitions, and social distancing.

Dee predicts that dining out will never be what it used to be without a proper vaccine. “That’s the only way we can hope to normalize.” Labs across the globe are working to develop one, but even then, the public may not see a vaccine for another 18 months. Without it, there will always be a risk of re-infection.

However, even when a vaccine is available, people’s outlooks towards restaurant dining will have changed greatly. Being overly selective will take precedence as factors such as implemented safety measures and number of contact points will all come into consideration when choosing where to eat out, if at all. Hope will not bring in sales for the restaurant industry. Be exaggerated, adapt, have a backup backup plan. No one can really say if we can ever go back to dining out as we knew it before. Soon enough, this new normal may just become normal.

 

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