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What’s next for restaurant development and business operations in a Covid-19 set up



As the country now enters a new chapter in its coronavirus tale, the relaxed community quarantine measures have allowed many businesses to get back on their feet by slowly opening their shops and working on limited services.

For food chains and restaurants, operating on take-out and delivery services is still the mandated protocol. But welcoming their customers back to dine in is something happening much sooner than expected.

Through the joint effort of the Department of Tourism and the Department of Trade and Industry, restaurants and fastfood chains will be allowed to operate on 50 percent capacity in areas under moderate general community quarantine (MGCQ).


As for food establishments in the National Capital Region, they will be allowed to do dine-in services on June 16, as Metro Manila will be under MGCQ by that time, expecting that they will strictly implement safety measures issued by the two departments.

Apart from the health protocols, there are other things restaurateurs and food entrepreneurs have to consider in making their businesses fit for the incoming diners. Though many are still hesitant on eating out as Covid-19 cases in the country continue to rise, ensuring customers and food staff’s safety is a conversation that starts in the kitchen of these businesses.

In “Future Is Now: F&B business recovery in action,” a web talk hosted by F&B Report, food business leaders Chef Josh Boutwood and Abba Napa share their views on reinventing dishes and how to keep the business running in a Covid-19 setup.


Many changes are about to be seen on how restaurants will create a new dining experience in the coming days, from limited people sharing food inside the space to how meals will be served.

Just like home cooks doing their lockdown dishes, the community quarantine phase gave much time for restaurants to assess how they do things inside their kitchen. For Chef Josh Boutwood, corporate chef for the Bistro Group and proprietor for concept restaurants Helm, Savage, and The Test Kitchen MNL, adjusting their menu is a way to adapt to the consequences brought by the pandemic.


Chef Josh Boutwood

“We have to change it. It is not the original Test Kitchen [menu]. We have to adapt to the times,” says Josh. “There are certain ingredients we cannot get a hold of right now. There are a lot of problems put into places. It has dictated how our menu is going to be platformed again.”

During ECQ and MECQ, his team worked on many ways to bring their dishes to their customers’ home, which include curbside deliveries and frozen ready-to-cook items. They supplemented the items with video tutorials so customers can enjoy their food the way they did back when they were eating it at their restaurants.


The Test Kitchen’s ready-to-cook 700g ribeye and creamed spinach and mash potatoes (above) and black truffle roasted chicken and creamy mash potatoes and caraway carrots (below)


“The whole landscape of our industry here in Manila has been tipped off,” he says. “Somehow we can’t get burdened by it, we have to look forward and keep the positives and the learnings we are having during this tough time and look forward to brighter days.”


Kitchen crew at The Test Kitchen MNL (Photo from @thetestkitchenmnl)

Josh is optimistic on serving customers again inside his restaurants. But apart from adhering to government guidelines, he advises other restaurants to stay true to what their brands are offering.

“Do not touch the DNA of your concepts. It is imperative that we keep what we do well and keep it intact as much as possible, move with the times and adjust,” he says. “We’ve got to assess the situation of social distancing, especially at restaurants here in Manila. We are constantly learning as the days go by. As the government releases more regulations, more adjustments have to be made until we are ready to enter this so-called ‘new normal.’”


More than serving new dishes, restaurant and food businesses must invest time in communication, especially in these times, according to Abba Napa, co-founder of The Moment Group.


The founders of The Moment Group Eliza Antonino, Abba Napa, and Jon Syjuco

“Communication is now a huge part of how we operate,” says Abba. “As you create something and you put 100 percent of your time in it, you need to give another 100 percent to communicate what you did. Otherwise, no one is going to know it exists. Communication goes hand-in-hand with development.”

Along with the importance of communication, Abba shared a few points she applied to her business to keep it going during community quarantine.

Regrouping team

Thinking fast and rational has been the key for The Moment Group to survive. That mindset of being swift and quick helped them to understand the situation, spread information, and make good business decisions.


Photo from @themomentgroup

“But before we could do these things, we must navigate through this balancing act of how to give our team the opportunity to continue to be employed but at same time without risking the safety of the team and the community at large,” she says. “There are a number of things that we did in order to make the business sustainable. One is to build a tree of communications that allows us to disseminate our message. In a crisis, it is important to send information to everybody at the same time.”

Listen to customers

In the earlier days of the community quarantine, the company decided to cancel all its planned traditional contents and messages. Abba and her team felt it was inappropriate during that time to advertise products when everyone was still feeling unsafe. It provided an avenue for them to hear their customers’ concerns as they got more queries compared to their pre-quarantine days.


The Moment Group’s Project Nourish provided more that 70,000 meals to frontliners and medical workers



“It allowed us to learn and get a better idea of the sentiments of the consumer,” she says. “At Moment, we are really big on psyche—what you want, what you need, why you want it. That ‘why’ is changing overnight. It is important for us to have our ears on the ground during that time.”

Experiment on different channels

Food businesses were baffled about how to serve their customers during ECQ as retail establishments were closed due to health concerns.

“It is complex for people like us because we are not in a business of giving food that is not attached to the atmosphere that we created for the diners to experience it with,” Abba says. “The question for us is how are we going to create this out-of-the-shop experience, which is not a primary concern for us before.”

Just like other brands, The Moment Group relied on delivery services and ready-to-cook items to continue their production. Another thing the company did was a collaboration between its brand Manam and convenient store 7Eleven, releasing microwavable sisig and kare-kare meals.

Starting today, you’ll be able to find Manam Express Sisig and Manam Express Kare-Kare at select 7-Eleven shops in Metro…

Posted by Manam Comfort Filipino on Tuesday, March 24, 2020

“We discover that people are appreciative of the fact that we are trying to meet them where they are, and trying to be more accessible,” she says. “It is pretty challenging to move around now. It is a big learning for me to try and get access and discover other markets that can make it easier for our diners to reach our products.”

“The consumers’ needs and wants are rapidly evolving, even day to day, because it’s so uncertain. Experimenting allows us to learn what exactly that evolution is going to look like, and it is helping us to prepare for the midterms,” she adds.

Source: Manila Bulletin (

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