Industry Update
Opinion Article29 May 2015

The pleasure of taste is a right, not a privilege

By Georges Panayotis, President & Founder of MKG Group & Hospitality ON

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Just a few years ago, hoteliers looked disdainfully upon the appearance of collaborative accommodations websites. They were certain that an offer that provided no standards or guarantees of comfort could have a real future. And yet, seduced by the playful aspect of online booking, by the idea of sharing an experience with the owners, by attractive prices with respect to hotels that have increased their rates, potential guests have jumped on the chance.

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It's a bit too late now to contain the ambitions of AirBnB and all the avatars born in its wake. It will take time and imagination to reconquer their catch because there is a real accommodations shortage on the big marketplaces that is not easy to compensate and also because it is necessary to invent a story for these clients who are demanding with regard to innovation and originality.

Already faring poorly, catering services don't appear to be learning anything from hoteliers' suffering. The sharing economy has made its way into all areas of the service, from automobile rental to DIY, from moving house to Sunday brunch. Catering services are the new playing field for all the "collaborative spirits" who wish to fatten up their wallets and share their culinary experiences, following the model of five seasons of Top Chef and Master Chef.

It comes as no surprise to see restaurants being deserted when an average three-course meal is billed like a gourmet delight. Certainly the job of restaurateur is increasingly difficult with a drop in VAT that has sullied their image, followed by a punitive increase in taxes, raw materials and social contributions. And the result has been harshly judged by clients: a drop with respect to quality/pleasure, gustatory mediocrity, not to mention prices that are not very affordable for modest budgets. The corner bistro is increasingly replaced by a sandwich or exotic takeaway to be eaten in the office. Dining out with friends has given way to pot-luck invitations where everyone contributes.

Two types of catering are forming, one is an "artisanal" quality for those who can still afford it, and the other is taking shape in the form of all kinds of fast food, favouring low-cost over fresh products. And a chasm is forming in between. Restaurants with no originality or flavor are paying the heavy price of seeing their clientele desert them. The presence of tourists and the arrival of fine weather continue to hide a basic phenomenon all too easily. And then when VoulezVousDiner.com, VizEat or Cookening join the trajectory of AirBnB, the damage will be terrible if restaurateurs take their fate back into their own hands.

The sharing economy reminds us of several basic values that have gone by the wayside during growth: pleasure, quality, reasonable cost, conviviality, originality, reception, service… and other fundamental values that appear to be better understood by home restaurateurs. All is not lost. Restaurateurs are backed by experience and talent, but they undoubtedly need to rework their economic model, their offers and their menus. It is no longer possible to live according to plans developed in the last century that were part of a gray economy to reach a reasonable level of profitability without doing in the customer.

Restaurants at hotels are being overhauled with interesting, affordable and gustatory offerings, but it is far from a veritable revolution. Concepts are being sought after somewhere between airport lounges and self-serve, with a preference for snacking over high gastronomy, which is now exclusive to palaces. But at least we can say that consideration is underway to capture hotel clientele as well as neighbourhood clientele.

Whatever shape restauration comes in, the reaction must be quick, consumer habits are changing as fast as 4G and high-speed technology. In culinary terms, taste rules, and the lifting of barriers against widespread bad-eating habits could make life very difficult for the entire profession.

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Georges Panayotis

Georges Panayotis is the President & Founder of MKG Group & Hospitality ON. Born into a family of hoteliers, Georges Panayotis left Greece at the age of 18 to study Political Science and earn a management degree at the University of Paris, Dauphine. In 1986 he created his own company and started developing specialised marketing tools for the hotel industry.

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