Back in the olden days when we used to get on aeroplanes and visit other countries, one of my favourite places to drop by was the awesome Aesop’s Greek restaurant in Bangkok’s Sathorn district.
The food is just the best, but so is the atmosphere, with owner (and PHD alumnus) John Gamvros, creating a shared social space with dancing, plate smashing, parties, quiz nights, and the occasional Queen singalong party (you can see why I didn’t mind stopping by occasionally).
Like many restaurants, Aesop’s Bangkok has been hugely impacted by this year’s pandemic and the shut-downs that have been introduced around the world to slow its spread.
The fall-out from the closures could be devastating to the industry: Forbes reports that – according to a study commissioned by the Independent Restaurant Coalition – the pandemic could force 85% of independent U.S. restaurants to close by the end of the year. Over on this side of the world in Japan, which is weathering the crisis better than many, that figure is reported to be around 20%.
It was most heartening then when I received, via the awesome Heather, a write up on Chope outlining how Aesop’s Bangkok responded to the challenge of Covid-19 – or, as John puts it – the ‘ronacoaster’.
The article outlines the innovative, creative and generous steps John and the team at the restaurant took to adapt and respond to the crisis. A little WhatsApp banter with John later, and I’d seen and heard what I thought was as great a Covid-19 Response Playbook as any that I’d seen.
I present to you then, the five-point Covid-19 Response Playbook – as inspired by the awesome approaches and actions of John and the Aesop’s Bangkok team.
Step One: Pivot and Operationalise, Fast
Like many restaurants, Aesop’s immediately kicked into gear re-launching their delivery product, creating a dedicated consumer-facing channel at orderaesops.com, as well as accelerating their digital marketing effort to support the platform. They also had to work with their staff to re-engineer the menu, change operations and back that up with training.
In the current moment you have to follow more then ever Nick Fury’s observation to The Cap in CA:TWS that you have to “… take the world as it is, not as we’d like it to be.” What do you realistically need to do right now to capitalise on the opportunities and overcome the barriers to driving revenues?
Step Two: Play To Your Strengths
Rather than reinventing the wheel, the restaurant found a way to deliver the added magical elements that made the Aesop’s dining experience so special. This included, for example, plate smashing. So the team found a way to deliver orders complete with smashable plates, so you can bring the Aesop’s dining experience to life in your own home (you presumably have to do you own in-home clearing up tho too).
Step Three: Do, Don’t Say
Actions really do speak much louder than words right now. The team built trust with the restaurant’s followers by communicating updates directly and regularly on our social media channels, and responding to specific queries and concerns.
The bigger the brand, the harder this is to do of course, but I couldn’t help but think of the contrast between the personal approach and the – much lambasted – generic response from big brands in the early stages of the crisis.
Step Four: Pay It Forward
Some of the most heartening stories to have emerged from the crisis have been around brands and businesses retooling and responding by paying efforts forward, and Aesop’s were no exception. They partnered with Ramathibodi Hospital to launch Eat it Forward Fridays, providing much needed fuel to the hard working doctors and nurses on duty. For every order received, Aesop’s donates one meal to Ramathibodi hospital to feed the hospital heroes with fresh, healthy Greek food.
Step Five: Be Honest
As John describes: “… it actually takes a lot more work than you’d expect to maintain the same high standards we set in the restaurant. We have overcome it through teamwork, listening to customer feedback, and constantly tweaking things. I have been honest with my customers, I tell them we are on a journey and that we are learning as we go. More often than not they appreciate that honesty and reward it.”
I think most people would agree that we’ve all at times felt out of our depth over the last six months. Being honest with customers (and with each other) about what we are trying to achieve, along with an equally honest assessment of how we are doing in getting there, will be appreciated and rewarded in kind.
Big thanks to Heather for the share, and John and all the team at Aesop’s Bangkok for the inspiration. We’ll stop on by just as soon as we can.
Stay safe everyone.