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What Chefs and Executives Want You to Know About How COVID-19 Is Changing the Hospitality Industry

In Worth’s latest session of The Next Normal, Eric Ripert, Roblé Ali and Charles Gibb discuss what the future of hospitality will look like.

hospitality Photo by Michael Browning via Unsplash

The restaurant and hospitality industry has made headlines during this pandemic as an industry that was hit especially hard. Chefs and restaurateurs continually echo that the future of their industry will be one of innovation. On Thursday, Eric Ripert, chef and co-owner of Le Bernardin, hospitalitarian Roblé Ali, Charles Gibb, CEO of Fever-Tree North America and Kathleen Entwistle, Managing Director at Morgan Stanley Private Wealth Management, joined Worth to discuss the challenges facing the hospitality industry right now and what dining will look like post-pandemic.

“It is obvious to me that things are going to change, of course, especially for fine dining,” Ripert said. “I don’t think we are going to be able to duplicate the experience that we were doing when we closed. It’s not feasible. We used to have a very large menu with a lot of different exotic items and luxurious items. You cannot even find that right now, as we speak.”

“We may lack a little bit of refinement here and there, but I think what’s going to compensate for that…We love to create an experience, but I think it’s going to be a lot of collegiality that we haven’t seen in every restaurant and hotels and bars and cafes,” Ripert added. “And that will definitely compensate for the lack of details or perfection in the details. And slowly but surely we will go back to the level of refinement or level of excellence that we are supposed to deliver.”

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While the experience of enjoying fine dining will be different for a time, restaurants aren’t the only aspect of hospitality that will take some time to transition back to normal.

“What I do, I’m bringing people together,” explained Ali, who runs catering company Roblé & Co. “We do day parties where there’s 2,500 people there for eight hours. So, the social distancing thing just totally, like, that kills us. And we don’t want to kill us either. But I am faithful that this too shall pass. We’ll make it through this. And I think a lot quicker than people are expecting.”

“When the gates open up, it’s going to be a boom,” Ali said.

Ripert and Ali both have an optimistic outlook on the future of the hospitality industry as America slowly begins reopening.

“We will probably not be able also to have the same budget for the flowers, for instance,” Ripert said, noting that Le Bernardin during a normal year can spend over $200,000 on flowers.

“Yes, it’s the restaurant, but it’s also the florist, you know, which is something I hadn’t considered until you said it,” Gibb said. “He’s probably relying on that for part of their income every year. And there are so many secondary industries which are being very heavily impacted that it will take a while to come up. But I believe passionately in this notion that the human spirit and the human’s ability to innovate, to be flexible, in a way, adapt or overcome finally, which is what we’re seeing here already.”

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That we are. And the good news is that, while it will be a challenge for the hospitality industry to regain its footing initially, Ali and Ripert are very confident that it will in time.

“The beginning is going to be challenging again,” Ripert said. “We’re going to have to have a lot of discipline and be extremely cautious on both sides, [on] the sides of the clients and on the sides of the team working in a restaurant.”

This means continuing to wear masks, spacing out tables, wearing gloves and finding efficient ways of sanitizing the kitchen often.

“It’s going to be like that for quite some time,” Ripert said. “So, the experience [is] not going to be the same…but being cautious will lead to normality at one point.”

Ali echoes this sentiment.

“There’s going to be a transitional period,” Ali said. “You will get back comfortable with each other. You know, six feet turns into five feet into four feet into three feet, then we’re all…It’s going to be OK, we’re going to be back.”

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But, he said, we are going to have be “nimble” and ready to adapt again in case there is a second wave of the coronavirus. We’ve already seen that people across industries have been able to adapt and innovate quite quickly, which has been a positive amidst this pandemic. Another positive, according to Gibb? How caring communities, like the hospitality industry, have been during this time.

“Whether it’s World Central Kitchen, City Harvest, Daniel Boulud, all these leading chefs are just…they’ve been the first people on the front line saying, ‘What can I do? How can I give back into my community at this time?’ And that’s why we love restaurants. That’s why we love restauranteurs and chefs, because they actually bring us together,” Gibb said.

 And Ali, Ripert and Gibb have all been doing just that.

 Ali has been “feeding people on almost a daily basis.” From nursing homes and firemen to EMTs and the 88th precinct, Ali has taken it upon himself to make sure the people in his neighborhood and those around Brooklyn are being cared for.

Gibb with Fever-Tree has been donating ginger beer, tonic water and ginger ale to hospitals and front-line workers “so that when they finish their shift—and they may be getting some delicious food from City Harvest or World Central Kitchen—they’ve got a delicious mixer to enjoy that with, and that’s something we’re really proud of as a business.”

But Gibb’s not done there.


“The other thing we’ve been doing is engaging a lot of bartenders; they’ve suffered the most during this time. And rather than make a donation to one particular organization, we’ve actually been engaging bartenders around the country. Because what they miss as much, obviously, as the income and the environment is actually the chance for them to show their skills. [So, we’ve been] getting bartenders, engaging them to create videos for us, obviously paying them to do so, and then posting those out on our social media.”

As for Ripert, he is vice chairman of the board for City Harvest, the biggest and oldest food rescue organization in the world based out of New York City. By the end of this month, City Harvest will have distributed 84 million pounds of food around the city. It works with José Andrés’ organization World Central Kitchen to ensure people are being fed during these trying times. You can donate to City Harvest here.

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