In this episode, Ragnar talks with Eric Pateman. A chef, entrepreneur, and global tastemaker, he’s carved out a career as one of the world’s leading consultants on culinary and gastronomy tourism. He’s written Canada’s national culinary tourism strategy, and from the Antarctic to New Zealand, he helps countries and companies alike develop a food-based approach to tourism and destination marketing.
Now amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he’s reflecting on how this tremendous event will redefine the world of hospitality. From farm to fork, he sees both hardship and opportunity.
In his view, the pressure to lower prices as a reactive measure to current economic downturn is a dangerous one. “I don’t think people pay enough for food at the end-consumer level to be able to support all the way down to the farmers, the fishers, the foragers,” says Pateman. Instead, he sees this as an opportunity for the industry to fix the value chain for food.
Yet with dining culture from tasting menus to cruise lines searching for ways to entice customers to return, the risk of further eroding the value chain is there. “Working in an industry where the average profit for a restaurant is 3-4%, there’s not a lot of margin for error in there. And all it takes is this little blip, or big blip, in the economy and it has massive repercussions.”
Chains “with deep pockets” are at an obvious advantage, while independents will need to be savvy and innovative in order to survive. Experiential dining will again be revived with new ways to draw diners. “You need to give people a reason to come out and that’s going to be more evident than ever before.”
With perceptions of both dining and touristry adapting to a COVID-19 reality, many people will look to domestic travel to satisfy their wanderlust. What are the implications for culinary tourism? “We’re in for a long ride,” says Pateman. His oversees clients are using this time to get ahead of the marketplace, but planning for an uncertain future has one big caveat: an unknown vaccine.
At home and abroad, the dining landscape is set to change considerably. In North America alone, about 70% of restaurants may not survive. “Tourism drives a big part of that.”
Eric’s own brand, Edible Canada, includes a restaurant, retail stores and a culinary travel division. Eric also has an award-winning salt company and a consulting practice that has kept him travelling around the world. Aside from spending his longest stint at home in more than a decade, the global pandemic has also reshaped his businesses. They’re looking to pivot into the food incubator space, promoting local and sustainable food systems and focusing on food security.
“Our goal is to take the restaurant space that we’ve got and turn it into a facility where we can help incubate young startups of new food artisans, people who are doing value added food products, innovate things with food. Not just supporting the local market but telling the Canadian story abroad.”
This comes on the heels of growing COVID-19 consumer trends driving a renaissance in home cooking. With pantry stables like flour, yeast, and sugar flying off the shelves as born-again home cooks bake away their anxieties during lockdown, consumer behaviors mean more indulging at home, more interest in better quality ingredients, and provenience taking a forefront in the conversation.
“People are rediscovering this ability to cook to reconnect not only with their families but with that past that we’ve sort of all let go of.”
“Independent restaurants and chefs need to stick together.” The ostrich approach is not going to work. Stay informed, check in with your industry friends, and use this time to get ahead and ready to take on whatever the next chapter has waiting.
“We’re watching our worlds get turned up-side-down. I think we’re all scared and we’re all anxious, but adversity creates opportunity.”
For resources on getting post-COVID ready, read our article on restaurant re-opening guides here.
Eric has also written The British Columbia Cookbook, with delicious recipes to eat smart and seasonally. You can find it here.
Take Eric’s advice and stay connected to your professional community. If you haven’t already, create your Worldchefs profile now and connect with over 500,000 hospitality professionals around the globe. It only takes a minute at www.worldchefs.org/login.
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