THE HEROES WE NEVER KNEW WE NEEDED
This portrait series is a celebration of the everyday heroes in this pandemic.
(Documented from a distance)
As part of our efforts to capture some of the impact of the coronavirus on Hong Kong’s F&B industry, we caught up with a number of friendly members of our community. We heard from chefs, restaurant owners, front of house and we were lucky enough to catch up with Manuel Palacio from Pirata Group.
Manuel, how has the current situation affected you both on a personal level and professionally?
Personally, my family is back in Malaga in Spain, with parents, and with the dogs. However a good friend of mine was in quarantine in 3 different countries and another friend of mine passed away because of the coronavirus, my neighbour. Really sad.
On the business side of course there have been a lot of challenges. But the most stressful thing, the biggest challenge, was to decide the best next decision.
With social distancing laws, it was difficult, your capacity shrinks, and suddenly people aren’t going out. Our pasta restaurant Pici is small, so we only have 3 tables left, but theres nothing you can do. Our sales are down considerably, but we have to make sure that the guests and that staff are happy, and service is better than ever. Staff need to be very focussed, and we have to make sure we are strong when we get to the other side
Sorry to hear about your neighbour, so how have you been managing your people during this pandemic?
You are responsible and you need to do what is right to your people. We have 350 staff, and have done the impossible to keep them all.
“So how do you take care of all these people? You do what is good for all, rather than what is good for the individuals. Business becomes irrelevant, it’s all about people, especially in a culture like ours. Our team comes first, the guests, then the business.”
We really only have a few options. We can close and reduce expenses. We can let go of 30-50% of the staff so the rest can carry on having a job. Or, we can all take a pay cut, in hours and in time. So that’s what we did. The message to the staff was that we can all get through it together if we work less hours. So, we asked our team on those off days to stay at home, exercise, spend time with your families, don’t spend money, and be very, very mindful.
But this must have hit the business hard? And it must have been a stressful period. How have you reacted?
Yes, of course, we were burning cash for a while just to keep everyone employed and there is a big cash flow crunch as we have to pay all the salaries for 3 months.
We were stressed a few weeks ago, but as we learn how to deal with this we are more relaxed. Those who can acquire spaces and talent now, might end up being very successful. We are now signing a lot of talent, and we also hired a Chief People Officer to oversee everything from a staff point of view.
So what has been the biggest test, and how are you overcoming the challenges?
Overall, this is a tremendous test for our culture. It is very easy to say things when things are going well, but what about when things are not going so well? Sometimes you have no choice, as you have to ask yourself I’m not too sure how much I can afford and you need to start being very creative, so for now we are focussed more on other different channels. In my opinion, you need to do delivery food, at delivery prices, and you cannot change the same for delivery, as you are getting 30% less of the experience. The decor, waiter, service, is all part of the product, so our delivery product will be a product designed for delivery.
Looking out to after the virus, what do you predict for the industry?
Our industry is going to change dramatically. Even before the virus, casual dining has been increasing, and upper-end dining has been decreasing. Of course health is becoming an issue, so there going to be real change.
People still need to eat, so we believe business will pick up very fast after the virus, at the speed of light!
Making the effort to keep all our teams may give us the flexibility to come back faster!