Pandemic-Proofing Your Business Model – So Hospitality Group Continues to Lead in Fine-Tuning Food Service Model

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By Kaitlyn Wallace

It’s no secret that it’s been a challenging two years for the restaurant business. Every establishment has had to pivot their business models to remain profitable; even so, many restaurants have closed in these harrowing times. To find out how the food service industry has been adapting in response to the pandemic, MEET Missouri reached out to Munsok So, President and CEO of So Hospitality Group, in early 2021 for comments and advice. But the nature of the pandemic has been constantly changing since that time, with increased availability of vaccines, continually shifting masking and social distancing requirements, and a customer base whose relationship with in-person dining is shaky at best. To get to the bottom of the current struggles of the restaurant industry, we again turn to Munsok So.

Disclaimer: Interviews have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question:

In the last interview you did with MEET Missouri, you discussed several changes to your food service model intended to offset the financial crisis caused by COVID-19. Are you still utilizing changes like touchless ordering and payment? Have you made any additional adjustments to your food service model in response to the changing nature of the pandemic?

Munsok So:

We’re currently continuing with a modified version of the mobile pay model. There’ve been a lot of good changes we’ve been able to make technology-wise that have made the process better and better for our guests. We’ve been able to increase the ease of reordering and paying online. And since we’re shifting more and more to in-person dine-in, we’re also offering physical menus. If customers want a waiter, we’re able to give them the service experience. So, it constitutes a kind of hybrid model now in our restaurants.

Question:

What new challenges has the industry been facing over the changing course of the pandemic?

Munsok So:

It’s been a challenging year, for sure. You’re managing lots of different things during the pandemic. A current issue that we’re seeing a lot is supply lines problems. That’s been a constant challenge every day. Certain items aren’t available, or the lead time is longer. It’s been everything from produce, to proteins, to just general supplies of furniture or pots and pans.

Question:

Could you talk a little bit more about the supply shortages you’re seeing? How do you adapt to that on a day-to-day basis?

Munsok So:

One of the beauties of having a digital menu is that you can adjust things quickly online for what’s available. Plus, customers are aware of what’s happening because we can mark certain items as “currently unavailable.” But I can see if you have a physical menu that it would be a lot harder. You just have to be able to adjust and to adapt.

Question:

What advice would you give restaurant owners who are trying to adapt to this ever-changing climate right now?

Munsok So:

I think one of the best things that we have done is to get feedback in survey form from each one of our guests. That gets turned in at the end of each shift to our corporate office and we read through it. You’ve got to adjust based on the market; if guests make it clear that they want to see physical menus, you’ve got to be able to make that adjustment… If you’re customer-centric in this period, I think you’ll do fine.

Question:

How do you picture the restaurant industry continuing to grow and evolve post-pandemic? What is the future of food service in relation to public health?

Munsok So:

I think post-pandemic, whenever that’s going to be– the industry’s going to come back stronger than ever. Everybody has to eat–  they’re either going to come in person or they’re going to get takeout. I think the models of restaurants cater to that. I think the picture might change a little bit– maybe a little more fast-casual restaurants, and more ghost kitchens are going to be around post-pandemic than pre-pandemic– but the industry will stay strong.

It’s more important than ever to stay in tune with customer needs. Like So Hospitality Group, restaurants will benefit from constant feedback and adjustment as the new stages of the pandemic require. One thing is clear– the pandemic is continuing to shape our world in new and often surprising ways as time goes on. But as So reminds us, if we’re able to stay flexible and responsive to the customer, the industry will pull through and remain stronger than ever.

MEET

Kaitlyn Wallace is a contributing writer from St. Louis.

For 20+ years, the MEET family of products have provided regional and national resources that have kept corporate, association, medical, education, independent, and religious meeting and event planners informed about relevant vendors, industry news, tech innovations, and resources that impact and influence how and where they plan their group business.

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