I set up Blackbirdbox last summer, an affordable consultancy service for independent food businesses with an added ambition to work on larger projects that offer support to the sector in Brighton and beyond. Over 20 years working in marketing and senior management, witnessing much turbulence and change I felt a transformation was brewing and a need for more free hands to help. I can certainly say I didn’t fully realise what was ahead, the impact of lockdown and the ramifications for the sector as a whole is overwhelming.
Survival has been the key word for the past 3 months and it appears many businesses have been stabilised by government funding and pivoting their business model to match market, but will this be enough? Looking forward we have post lockdown and the recessionary impact pending before we truly go into market recovery which will inevitably take up to 5 years for many. How does the sector approach this and in particular the independents who by the very nature of their business face customer, staff and their investors in the same moment?
I heard someone say just be brave to a restaurateur; bravery is usually related to knowing what’s ahead and showing the strength to walk straight into it, I don’t think we have a choice, everybody needs to walk into the fire but it’s courage that we need to do this. Brighton is a remarkable city, its collective ambition knows no end, and this crisis has showcased community spirit which will boost purposeful businesses that want to secure their place on the high street. I have been astonished by the wonderful energy and creativity that many have evoked, its now time to make that marketable on a long-term basis and build models that cover consumer desire to truly having their cake and eat it.
Technology had become integral to hospitality growth and over lockdown has propelled itself to a new status. Click and collect and delivery have become daily habits, pay-at-table technology will become the norm with more virtual offerings becoming commonplace. What we knew as service and hospitality will change, we will move into a period where a marriage of quality product, identity and digital engagement is king and with rich data businesses can learn and adapt their concepts accordingly. Never have so many doors opened while the hoarding comes down.
I am working on the Shelter Hall Raw – Brighton’s first food hall concept that like others had to be put on pause due to lockdown, but with the summer in sight we decided to deliver a popup version over a 6 week period, with a third of the budget ‘raw’ as a concept is a fundamental, lower design space with a focus on quality product and offer. I do not think we are alone in making choices like this. Covid19 has highlighted our weaknesses, now let it shine on our strengths.
By Olivia Reid
Director of Blackbirdbox