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Elena Kalmykova in Moscow: Now is the time for opening a café or restaurant post-COVID

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If you have ever considered opening a café or restaurant prior to the pandemic, you may be thinking: “No way I would be launching something now! Look at all the restrictions, Elena. Are you nuts?”.

Well, there is certainly this side to it, but I want to speak of the advantages of opening a food spot now. This is my opinion solely and I would love to hear yours in the comments below! Your input will be especially valuable if you are a restaurateur/chef/entrepreneur from the food industry.

Opening a café now means less competition

During 2020, about 19 percent of restaurants closed in Moscow due to Covid, however it doesn’t mean that there will be less spots to eat out at – I see two or three places opening up every week. A tendency I have seen during the past year is democratisation, meaning cheaper offers for special occasions and casual dining alike.

This direction the market is taking makes me think that despite the uncertainty we may feel about how restaurants may function in the event of a fifth or even sixth wave, there is always place for something new. I currently have three clients working on opening new projects and this is definitely a positive sign that the market will never stop moving, only that it will adapt to the current conditions.

Desire to eat out

Cooking online or getting your favourite Michelin restaurant carry out to “dine out” at home is great, but only works as a temporary measure. Food can’t be just about food itself – for the French, communicating at the table is equally important. As for Russians and other less sociable cultures, we still have an urge to experience the atmosphere of a place we are eating at.

Covid or no Covid, people will queue for special places that not only serve fabulous food but make the experience of eating out special.

Dark kitchens and other food tech solutions will be developing as more and more people will be happy to get the same level of service at home for a tapas party or a Michelin-style dinner, but restaurants will never die.

As a famous chef once said, “Restaurants are not essential for us to live, but they are very important to make us feel alive.”

Takeaway and other ways to diversify your business

When starting a new business, it’s almost impossible to predict a Black Swan (as was in the case with the pandemic.) In such conditions of uncertainty, it is sometimes easier to follow a trend that has been around long enough to last for some time longer. The concept of your future gastronomic spot, your target audience and the area you want to launch it in are the key factors will help you understand whether a pandemic-related trend for takeaways will be of interest.

Takeaway shouldn’t be the sole focus of your place though unless you are more or less sure it will be in huge demand. Opting for making your own product lines, teaching, pairing up with retail are some of the ways you can use to make sure that if one of your initiatives doesn’t work out, there will be others to support the business as a whole.

Pop-up stores, events or festivals (if they are to take place) are a great way to test your concept with little investment. Local communities can also be of help – in 2020 and 2021 I have seen many initiatives launched in France and Russia alike where HoReCa (hospitality and restaurant business) professionals helped each other find personnel, create events and support each other in other ways. Besides, it is quite likely that it will be the locals who will be your future guests, so focusing on the community is a great way to thrive.

I am sure that with some analysis of the market, now is a powerful transitional time that may help many new initiatives flourish.

About the author:

Elena Kalmykova is a pastry chef, gastronomic guide, arts lover and passionate traveller. She’s originally from Moscow, Russia. It was her love for pastry that led Elena to study and then work in a Parisian pastry shop, a 3-star Michelin restaurant and now in a 5-star hotel.

She loves to discover new technologies as well as the latest trends in food, great spots to eat or drink and share her knowledge.

You can follow her on Instagram at elena_kalmykova.

See all of Elena’s Dispatches posts here.

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