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Locked down? A food entrepreneur’s lessons and opportunities

Locked down? A food entrepreneur’s lessons and opportunities
What do you do when dining out isn't an option anymore? Innovate.

MANILA, Philippines – Before the pandemic, our company was all set to open our 4th restaurant in Antipolo City in March, and an events place by June. Business has been great, and it seemed nothing could stand in the way of our wish to serve more Marikina residents with our brand of food and service. 

The coronavirus, and the Luzon-wide lockdown that it triggered, was the proverbial Black Swan that young entrepreneurs like me and my wife could not have prepared ourselves for. 

Miguel & Maria (MM), which I founded with my wife Marou in 2015, runs 3 casual restaurants which seat at least 100 people per branch and have at least 50 transactions per day, per store. They are supported by a commissary team of 8 and a back office support of 7. All in all, our daily operation has been run by 65 people – Mondays to Sundays, 7 am till 10 pm — in the last 5 years.  

We could count at least 7 adjustments in the aftermath of the lockdown in March:

1. Frontline operations. From 3 stores, a commissary and back office support with a total number of 65 pax workforce, we were reduced to 6 frontliners and 4 back office support – all set up at home. The 12-hour shifts were reduced to a maximum of 6 hours. Store hours were changed from 7 am -10 pm to 11 am – 5 pm.  Our grocery list now includes face masks and ethyl alcohol.

2. Delivery and takeout. Operation shifted from casual dine-in and heavy transaction banquet services to 100% delivery and takeout. 

3. New menu. We created blast frozen meals, family trays, and popular dishes. Digital collaterals were made available as soon as possible. Minimum offering concentrated on the best of the best. 

4. Mobility. The delivery and service segment got overcrowded in an instant. We ensured the value-added service of booking couriers in behalf of our customers along with free delivery schemes and other personalized services required by our patrons. Customer base grew as we were able to cater to as far as Valenzuela in the north and Muntinlupa in the south.  

5. Digital. We tripled our monthly budget for digital advertising. A third-party creatives team was already onboard prior to the pandemic, and we shifted all local store marketing efforts to digital. We spent more hours together now than before – of course all online. We engaged a third party digital creatives team. Facebook and Instagram messengers are our holy grail. All queries are answered no matter what time of the day. Calls and messages are routed to our personal numbers. Walk-in sales suddenly became a thing of the past. 

6. Financials. Rental holidays were extended throughout the duration of ECQ. As well as bank amortizations, utilities, tax settlements. Supplier collections were also suspended while majority of our deliveries were still on schedule with minimal purchase orders. We liquidated idle company assets — back up ovens. chillers, freezers etc. From a 50-transaction per day, per store, the lockdown reduced it to 10 transactions for 3 restaurants –  on a good day. 

7. Future plans. Growth and expansion projects for physical stores were put into hold as we focus our efforts in strengthening the new foundations of our operations – take out and delivery with relevant digital presence. We had to decide to suspend our annual summer company outing and 2020 company Christmas party. 

What did not change?

We’re still smiling every single day and looking beyond this crisis. This will not last forever. If there’s one silver lining to this, Miguel & Maria is now known to foodies in other cities in the National Capital Region.

And so we are ready to adapt to whatever the future brings.

I see key challenges moving forward:

1. At least 90% of our sales come from dine-in and banquets, but this will be greatly challenged. Rent is still high, and demand might not be sufficient to maintain a branch. 

2. Sourcing imported materials is another concern. If available, we will procure local produce. But the reality is that local produce is relatively more expensive given its limited supply.

3. We will have to develop new products that will cater to celebrations at home – blast frozen meals, family trays and take out ala carte, among others.

4. We will have to invest in additional industrial equipment to create these products, however, such as blast freezer, industrial vacuum sealer, industrial grade combi ovens, additional commercial freezers, etc. 

5. We will have to develop marketing campaigns targeted towards activities our corporate clients – such as sponsoring zoom meetings; providing packed lunch for offices on skeletal operations; etc.

All these sound very challenging.

But we are inspired by our belief in our product, the service we provide, and what we could further contribute to Marikina and to our larger community. 

When we dreamed big 5 years ago, we did so with open eyes. The Filipino entrepreneur does not only endure, he thrives. 

And we look forward to embracing new challenges and crafting new plans for the future. – Rappler.com

 

Check out M&M food and services on Facebook: Miguel & Maria and Comedor by Miguel & Maria. On Instagram they’re @miguelandmaria and @comedorph. You can also call 8880-2031 or 09104979066. 

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