Faced with the Coronavirus crisis and its economic consequences, the on-trade has been hit hard. A particularly violent wind is blowing in Brussels. Subsidies there are lower than those offered in Wallonia and Flanders. Tourism has dwindled to a trickle, and workers who have switched to teleworking have deserted the capital.
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And yet, against all the odds, the bosses of the Brussels hotel and catering industry have not thrown down the gloves.
In this article, we present the trends and challenges facing the hospitality sector in the face of the crisis:
- How the sector is mobilising and uniting ;
- The twofold challenge facing the hospitality sector: cash flow and digitalisation;
- 4 Horeca concepts in Brussels that are weathering the crisis.
Brussels: The hotel and catering sector mobilises and unites
First and foremost, the interests of the on-trade are defended by the Fédération Horeca Bruxelles, which has been active since 1939. Its role is to defend the interests of the Horeca sector in Brussels. The Fédération Horeca Bruxelles presents a range of measures obtained in favour of the Horeca sector.
Faced with the scale of the crisis, other forms of support and mobilisation have emerged. A number of managers of Brussels catering establishments have set up theUnion Horeca Brussels. They include some of the best-known names in the sector, such as Paul de Béthune (café Belga), Haile Abebe (café Beguin and restaurant Toukoul), Liza Miller (Le Pantin) and Andréanne Marcil-Bergeron (Les super filles du tram), to name but a few. Their aim? To come up with concrete, positive and constructive solutions to save what can be saved.
The dual challenge of the hospitality sector
Everyone in the hotel and catering sector is saying that public subsidies are not enough to cover the fixed costs of establishments that are shutting down. For many, staying open with capacity restrictions and new regulatory constraints is only half the solution.
In addition to various temporary support measures (flat-rate premiums, suspension of commercial rents etc.), structural solutions will need to be deployed to refinance the entire sector.
This is the task that the Brussels Government has entrusted to Finance.Brussels, the Brussels public company headed by Pierre Hermant, whose mission is to facilitate and complete the financing chain for value-creating businesses in the Brussels Region.
We know that the hotel and catering industry is a breeding ground for jobs.
In addition to public support for this sector, businesses and individual citizens can also play a decisive role (each insofar as they are able). Firstly, everyone can continue to support the hotel and catering industry through consumption.
Secondly, the major challenge lies in the mobilisation of public savings to finance the sector directly or indirectly. Various instruments can be used:
- The prêt proxi introduced in the Brussels region, which enables companies to obtain financing from "family & friends";
- Participative financing, which allows people to make public calls for savings to finance crowdfunding and crowdlending campaigns.
Should "digitalisation" now be seen as a threat or an opportunity for the on-trade?
On the one hand, in entire sectors of the hotel and catering industry, everything remains to be done in terms of digital technology.
On the other hand, some players in the on-trade are investing heavily in digital and online marketing. This is particularly true of certain chains and franchises. This is also a key factor in the deployment of new online delivery platforms.
It is therefore through new efforts in the digital field that many establishments are seeking (and some are finding) solutions. With takeaways, deliveries and social networks, we can only hope that the crisis will speed up the digitisation of the on-trade.
4 Horeca concepts in Brussels that are weathering the crisis
It's a good thing that some of Brussels' catering concepts don't seem to be "experiencing the crisis". In fact, it would be more accurate to say that some establishments, especially small restaurant chains, are weathering the crisis better than the rest of the sector.
These establishments are a big hit on the Uber Eats, Deliveroo and Take Away apps. In some cases, they have set up their own home delivery service (such as the Toukoul restaurant, which delivers its Ethiopian specialities direct to its customers). Takeaway sales are also making a strong comeback.
They all offer us photos of colourful, succulent dishes. In fact, since our confinement, we've got into the habit of scrolling through their menus on our phones rather than on paper. It's as easy as two, three clicks: the order is placed and delivery is just around the corner. Let's eat!
Their names are Isabelle Arpin, Bon, Les Filles, Les Super Filles du Tram, Knees to Chin, Makisu, Manhattn's Burgers, Peck, Takumi, Toukoul, Umamido, to name but a few.
What do these brands have in common? Growing success before confinement. An offer for gourmets, dishes that can be "Instagrammed" and adapted for delivery. With these ingredients, the Pitaya Thai cuisine chain successfully opened in the midst of the Covid crisis.
The 10 most searched dishes on Google in Belgium during the lockdown:
1) Pizza, 2) Sushis, 3) Chinese food, 4) Chips, 5) Thai, 6) Burger , 7) Pita, 8) Tapas, 9) Wine, 10) Poke.
(Sources: article Le Soir)
Isabelle Arpin's La Bonne Etoile: A gourmet chef with a digital catering twist
It's possible to run a gourmet restaurant, adapt and go digital in record time. If a prize were to be awarded, chef Isabel Arpin would certainly walk away with a handsome reward.
After cooking meals for hospitals and the homeless during the initial lockdown, Isabelle and her partner, Dominika Herzig, have also launched "La Bonne Etoile", a collaborative, committed and participative caterer which, among other things, promotes collaborative partnerships with local shops and farms.
To achieve this, they rolled up their sleeves: Dominika even learnt coding to manage the website herself. Action, reaction!
Knees to Chin: Spring rolls that escape the steamroller
At Knees to Chin you can enjoy "pho", Dim Sum, Miso soup and spring rolls without having to catch a plane. Can you see the old-fashioned charm of Hanoi? Well, it's now in your living room, delivered in record time, with the added bonus of absolutely indisputable freshness. Not bad, is it? Especially when you think you won't be seeing Ha Long Bay again any time soon.
The two founders, Roxanne and Agathe Gernaert opened their first restaurant in Ixelles in 2014. Soon, restaurants in Sainte Catherine and Saint Boniface followed. During the lockdown, the two sisters waited 2 weeks before offering a takeaway. Since then, their delivery service has become well-oiled and their 3 brands have switched to delivery and takeaway mode galore.
Pitaya: A successful opening in the midst of the Covid crisis
Pad Thai or Wok? Or both? So are we! The Pitaya chain of restaurants specialising in Thai cuisine is making a real splash in Europe, but until now it hadn't crossed the borders of Belgium. It arrived in September in the middle of Covid in Ixelles, and its success is based on just a few factors: healthy, gourmet cuisine inspired by the street food of Bangkok. Pitaya's freshly prepared woks are a trip in themselves: the Sie Yai (with udon noodles) and the Nua Kao (with beef and prawns) are a real treat! The concept was brought to Belgium by AlphaSeed, a group of Belgian investors from the fast-food industry.
Specialising in 'Fast Casual', 'quality' fast food, such as Exki or Pain Quotidien, their aim is to open 70 restaurants in the Benelux countries over the next seven years: 30 in Belgium, 35 in the Netherlands and 5 in Luxembourg.
Wolf Bruxelles: The Food Market that will emerge from its Waterloo lair after the lockdown
After Wolf in Brussels, Thierry Goor is planning to open new "food markets". The next Bivouwag chain will open in Waterloo at the end of this year. With a 450 square metre space, the wild-style concept will offer 5 types of cuisine: Indian, poke bowl, fish (Le Comptoir du Crabe), pizza and truffle dishes. Who's hungry?
Makisu: connected maki under the sun
Welcome to the wonderful world of Californian makis, this fast good fusion restaurant is well known in Brussels. The first restaurant opened its doors in 2012 on the rue du Bailli, with an ultra-simple and effective concept: democratic prices and fresh products prepared to the minute.
The unique ingredient? A 'robot' that makes the makis.
Makisu was soon all the rage, and in just a few years it had a number of smaller outlets: Ma Campagne, Sainte Catherine, Cimetière d'Ixelles. In just 6 years, almost 4 new outlets opened in strategic locations across the capital. Before the crisis, the chain was already very digital, allowing its customers to order online or by telephone to avoid long queues at lunchtime and in the evening. Since Covid, the chain has been feeding the capital's millennials, with delivery drivers jostling for position in front of Makisu restaurants, on bicycles or scooters!