As restaurants and bars around the world reopen after the coronavirus lockdown, they are implementing a range of measures to protect their customers as well as their businesses. But for many, reopening also signifies an opportunity to do things differently – and better – to future-proof their establishments for survival. Here, 10 of the world’s top chefs and bartenders give their advice on how to thrive throughout this crucial next stage of pandemic recovery.
1/ “Give food fair value” – Clare Smyth, Core by Clare Smyth, London
With a restaurant focused on giving value to humble, local products such as potatoes and carrots, Clare Smyth has always educated her guests about good farming practices and quality ingredients, but her “pet hate” is when restaurants undercut each other with low prices, undervaluing the quality and labour behind each dish. Now, more than ever, she says diners need to be willing to pay a fair price for their meals to support restaurants and producers. “As restaurants, we now have the opportunity to make people understand the real value of things because for many years in the hospitality industry, everything was a race to the bottom,” she says. “Businesses won’t survive if people don’t understand the value. People need to appreciate the hospitality industry more now, especially given what it’s gone through. It’s about fair trade in the food trade.”
Clare Smyth's restaurant, Core, where she says that restaurateurs must apply honest value to their offering
2/ “Ask yourselves: what are you willing to sacrifice?” – Mauro Colagreco, Mirazur, Menton
While The World’s Best Restaurant 2019 was closed for three months, chef Mauro Colagreco kept himself “sane” by spending time with his gardeners in the Mirazur allotments. While he witnessed nature regenerating, he reconsidered his entire restaurant concept, reopening in late June with four new menus based on the biodynamic lunar calendar. By paying closer attention to nature, he says that he is able to make a more sustainable business while protecting the planet. “We have to rethink the way in which we produce and consume,” he says. “The real question is: what are we willing to sacrifice to change the rhythm in which we live? We have to find a new rhythm – one that is closer to nature.”
3/ “Reconnect with locals” – Germán Martitegui, Tegui, Buenos Aires
Like many of the restaurants on the 50 Best lists, Tegui relies on a large proportion of customers from overseas, and with travel restrictions in place, those destination diners won’t be returning any time soon. In the meantime, chef-owner Germán Martitegui says restaurants can adjust their menus for local diners, perhaps with more simple dish options as the world returns to some level of normality. As travel picks up, he expects to see diners from neighbouring South American countries before welcoming those from further afield.
4/ “Be flexible and add more fluidity to roles and responsibilities” – Monica Berg, Tayēr + Elementary, London
While some bars and restaurants are able to reopen with their full workforce, others may have to cut capacity and, in turn, staff. Monica Berg, co-owner of Tayēr + Elementary, says that with smaller teams there’s an opportunity for businesses to do away with traditional job titles and allow staff to apply themselves to multiple tasks – something she and her team have always done. “Throw away the notion of this person being a bartender and that person being a chef and be much more fluid in the way you work,” she says. “A lot of people may find it difficult to adapt in the first place, but it’s going to be a good thing in the long run. You give people more variety and more skills.”
5/ “Look after your team’s all-round wellness” – Ana Roš, Hiša Franko
Reopening Hiša Franko in early June after three months of lockdown in Slovenia, Ana Roš says she and her team were “vulnerable and emotionally crushed”. Now her staff are “learning how to walk again” and Roš believes it is vital for chefs and restaurateurs to look after their team members’ mental health. “Restarting normal life after lockdown with such a strong rhythm as we have in the restaurant business is really difficult,” she says. “Take care of your people as well as you take care of yourself because everyone has different fears and uncertainties.”
Ana Roš says that an awareness of teams' mental wellness is more important than ever
6/ “Give everyone a chance to experience fine dining, pandemic or otherwise” – Janaina Rueda, A Casa do Porco and O Bar da Dona Onça, São Paulo
Chef Janaina Rueda and her husband Jefferson have always been committed to making fine dining accessible, with their 10-course tasting menu at A Casa do Porco set at just US $25. But with the coronavirus pandemic rapidly escalating in Brazil, the team felt it was more important than ever to reach a wide audience with their food. After several weeks serving nutritious, free meals to the homeless and disadvantaged, they developed a home delivery service offering organic meal boxes in sustainable packaging for just US $9. Now, they plan to continue delivery from their restaurants even after they reopen. “Today’s luxury is knowing that everyone should have access to good-quality food,” says Rueda. “We show our love through experiences, whether in our restaurants or in people’s homes.”
7/ "Impeccable service is paramount. Now, more than ever" – Keith Motsi, Charles H, Seoul
As one of the countries praised for its successful handling of the coronavirus crisis, South Korea set an example for the rest of the world. Its bars and restaurants avoided total shutdown by implementing early safety measures, including contact tracing and widespread testing. At Charles H in Seoul, head bartender Keith Motsi has reorganised the space so that tables are further apart and technology makes processes more efficient, but he has also adjusted his service to accommodate for the increase in older, local customers who might have sweeter palates or prefer their music a little less loud. Reading your guests is key, he says, and while it may be easy to forget about good service when focusing on safety and hygiene, it’s important that social distancing measures don’t hinder the guest’s experience.
Hospitality is paramount, according to Keith Motsi
8/ “Be in a state of constant reflection” – Leo Espinosa, Leo, Bogotá
For Leo Espinosa, a month of enforced quarantine provided a much-needed period of contemplation, and one that she plans to extend into everyday life as things return to normal. “We need to be in a state of constant reflection to understand that cooking is much simpler than it appears,” she says. “We have to understand our role as human beings on this Earth – to not feel hate or anger, to be compassionate, to support those in need.” She says the role of a cook should also encompass these values.
9/ “Focus on who you are” – Vladimir Mukhin, White Rabbit, Moscow
When Vladimir Mukhin was forced to close all 23 restaurants in his group due to the lockdown, the chef and his team had to think on their feet, quickly opening a version of White Rabbit to deliver semi-prepared dishes to people’s homes with an invitation to dine with Mukhin by video call. During the closure, he learned many things, from developing a personalised approach that brought him closer to his guests to improving on communication and developing a clearer view of his restaurants’ future. “Use these turbulent times to look deeper into yourself,” he says. “This time helped me to gain even more confidence in what we are doing and gave me a better vision on what to do next.” For Mukhin, the changes inspired him to create his new tasting menu, Metamorphosis, which will take his guests on a journey through White Rabbit’s history.
10/ “Use the power to be at the forefront of change” – Dominique Crenn, Atelier Crenn, San Francisco
As both chef and activist, Dominique Crenn says there are opportunities to rebuild a better world after the pandemic, with changes to the way we eat, farm and work with our local communities. She says the role of chef should also be redefined, and awards should be given not just to those who are cooking great food but to those who are fighting for positive change. “What are you doing, what is your purpose?”, she asks. “That’s how we’re going to redefine what a good chef is. It’s not just about cooking amazing food, it’s also about cooking with purpose, being part of a new way of doing things and bringing out amazing, wonderful ideas and reflections on how we can do better in this world.”
Visit the Restaurant Recovery Hub and the Bar Recovery Hub to explore useful resources and read the stories of chefs and bartenders around the world. Follow 50 Best on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to discover positive initiatives by the worldwide hospitality industry.