I’m probably not the only one that has seen the ‘What if 2020 isn’t cancelled? What if 2020 is the year we’ve been waiting for?’ post on social over the last couple of weeks. At the time of reading it, I happened to be in bedraggled-single-mum mode, battling home-schooling while running a business, so I laughed out loud and gave it a “you must be joking” type response (with a few expletives added in for good measure). For those of you who haven’t seen it, it’s a post that flips the discomfort, pain and anxiety of the last 10-or-so weeks on its head to suggest that this is in fact the year that will force us all to grow, will awaken us from our ignorant slumber (in the words of the post itself) and band us together to become the most important year of them all. An interesting and thought-provoking take on a situation that has undoubtedly tested us all to our limits professionally and personally in some way, shape, or form.

But after laughing in the face of such a ridiculous (or not-so-ridiculous) thought, I settled down and started to think about its meaning and what I have witnessed, watched, listened to and experienced first-hand since the end of March.

With social media use being at an all-time high — and one of the only ways for brands and individuals to tell their stories right now — clients, peers and industry movers and shakers have taken to hosting panel discussions, video interviews, creating vlogs and flooding LinkedIn with opinions and thoughts. I’ve made sure to put aside time to watch and read as much as I can. In fact, shamefully, more time than I usually do. Because, let’s face it, it’s often all too easy to get into the habit of running at 100mph and just, well… getting on with it — in all aspects of life.

But COVID-19 has stopped us in our tracks. It’s made us slow down (although ironically it also hasn’t), take stock, and forced us to think differently and perhaps in ways that we would never have considered before. Has it woken us from an ‘ignorant slumber?’ Well, that’s probably something for everyone to answer individually, but has it put a new spin on complacency? Perhaps it has. Because we’ve not had to face anything like it before, and of course, we never saw it coming.

The social post put across one idea that I think is most certainly true: people across our industry — or ‘frenemies’ as someone on one of the foodservice panel discussions affectionately referred to herself and her peers as — have banded together and shown a great amount of unity in tackling this crisis as one. What I have seen and read through this uncertain time for everyone has been hugely inspiring in many ways, and it’s clear that whether you’re an operator, supplier or a service provider to our wonderful industry, there are some common themes that are helping to carry us all forward for the return to the new normal and hopefully an even brighter future.

I write this piece whilst still working through the detail of re-opening the office for Team Cracked to return to our own new normal, and many of my connections and clients are further along the line of the massive task of RE-ORGANISING. Though with the imminent decision due to reduce the 2m rule to just 1m, I might press pause before having to reconfigure it all for a second time. Almost everyone I have spoken to has naturally had to map out every single touchpoint from deliveries in, to customer hand-off, to identify the new process and how they become COVID-safe. There has also been huge re-configuration to spaces and layouts. I have heard of kitchen prep being broken down into shifts over a 24-hour period with fewer people in at any one time, and office teams being split into mini ‘bubbles’ as per the approach for pupils returning to school in order to isolate and manage risk short term. Temperature checks, new customer flows… the list is endless. The planning is just the starting point, but it’s the foundation of it all and is something that inevitably will have to evolve over time with the situation.

Going through this process, a common phrase that I’ve heard repeatedly is REASSURANCE, which of course makes total sense in every industry. The only way we’re going to get people feeling comfortable about walking back through the doors, be it of a restaurant, bar or office, is if we do a good job in rebuilding confidence for customers, clients and colleagues. It’s about providing the reassurance that environments are safe in which to prepare, serve and consume food, and that our office spaces are COVID-safe. The great news is that people want to get back to enjoying hospitality (a huge positive), but they naturally want the reassurances of increased amounts of cleaning, hand sanitiser, and tables being appropriately distanced. That reassurance can’t exist without the investment of time and money into the re-organisation.

Then of course there’s the RE-ENGAGEMENT. Let’s face it we’re now 10 weeks into barely leaving our houses. Life as we knew it is a bit of a distant memory not just in work, but out of work too. So, not only are we going to soon be stepping outside for the first time into the new normal, but we’re going to be doing so with new rules, new processes and new ways of behaving as consumers which will inevitably change with every phase of lockdown easing.

So, there’s a lot of work involved in communicating effectively while remaining ‘on brand’ with customers about the new (and probably reduced) menu available, how to order, how to pay, where to wait for your coffee or food. And from an office perspective, there’s a huge re-engagement piece around new processes and expectations around both coming back to the office and home working now that we all know it’s possible (though not always optimal). That’s before we even start to think about the re-engagement for those who have been furloughed, because for them it could feel like a complete restart, requiring time and effort in the form of a re-induction.

Aside from the enemies now becoming frenemies and banding together, at this point I am not sure the blood, sweat and tears of the reorganising, reassurance and re-engagement themes stand out to me as transformational in ‘forcing us to grow.’ They seem more like necessary bi products of this very unfortunate situation.

For me, the transformational ‘growth’ theme is in the RE-FOCUSSING and RE-SETTING that we have all had to do. Because having looked under the bonnet of our own operations — whatever they may be — we will now all have a sharpened focus on what we do well, but importantly, what can be done better. We have found far simpler ways to do things that we previously might have overcomplicated, and we realised there are processes that we can’t possibly live without. We have had to find ways to work with a reduced team and manage without things that we never thought we could. Through our hands being forced, we have had to fast track and find ways of bringing to market and launching products and services in a matter of weeks — things that may have been part of the 2023 plan, not the 2020 one —not because we were ready to, but because we needed to survive. And they most probably weren’t 100% perfect either, because we didn’t have time for them to be (not always a bad thing when you consider the amount of time we spend and sometimes waste pontificating in some situations). Some organisations have had to find a sense of agility that they may never have had before, because this pandemic has fast-forwarded trends that were mere dots on their horizon.

Over the last 10 weeks as an industry, we’ve developed and delivered true innovation with a better appreciation that it doesn’t always have to be exciting or ‘shiny and new,’ but simply a refined approach or the evolution of something that already exists.

We have had to go harder, faster and be stronger. At times it’s felt exciting and other times quite terrifying. We have all had to demonstrate a great amount of resilience, focus, determination and grit and — as the post referred to — we’ve all experienced an amount of discomfort, pain and anxiety too.

As for the ‘What if 2020 is the year we’ve been waiting for?’ Only time will tell, but it certainly feels like this is indeed becoming the most important year of them all; the year that will define us all in one way or another. There’s most definitely still a long, long road ahead, but fast forward 12 months and I hope we’re all sat in our favourite pub, bar, restaurant or café raising a glass to our fellow professional friends or ‘frenemies’ and our culturally and socially resilient, oh-so-important industry.

May this be our time to grow.