Rachel Gaffney’s Letter From Texas

The New Normal was the phrase used back in 2008 following the global recession and here it is again, used every single day. It is now thrown around carelessly, without much thought. We have been through a rough and trying time. We are still going through it and will have a way to go, but new normal? I’m not so sure.

We frequently hear the term pivot. Used when a company has to make some fundamental changes to its business model. Either they are not delivering what clients need and want or it is not making good business sense. I too have taken a hard look at my own business model and have already begun to implement these changes.

The restaurant and hospitality industry has always been known for long hours and poor pay. I began my career in 1989, working in small hotels. Working late nights, staying well beyond my shift time for no extra money. Finishing up at midnight only to be back on the desk at 6.30am sharp. It was the norm. If you did not like it, you got another job. And so I stayed in this industry.

A few weeks ago, I was driving here in Texas and listening to a business analyst interviewing a chef in New York City. The chef said for every $1 coming in 95c was going out. Yes, that is correct. The analyst quite simply said this was an appalling business model. No other corporation would operate with margins like this. This chef explained that the rent was so high in New York and she paid her staff well. All valid reasons as to why so much money was going out. “But the fact still remains,” he said, “it is indeed an appalling business model.” She had known it for some time, long before COVID, but it was the norm. To work all day every day, to be this stressed for very little remuneration. It was what everyone else in the industry did. Then she said she had an aha! moment. She no longer wanted to live this way. She plans on making changes.

And so, to my thoughts on travel and hospitality. I think and feel things will change a little for a while. People will want exclusive rentals and private hire. People will want to get outside. People will avoid big cities. I see outdoor adventure being popular. It already is and people are requesting it. However, and please know this is early days, but people have said to me that they will book a trip to a country where they are guaranteed good weather. This can pose a challenge for Ireland, but please, I want to reiterate this is early days and I am simply passing along comments. I am currently working on a project around this very topic.

To escape the terms Pivot and New Normal, I would like to suggest using words like, adjustment, transition, develop and advance. These words are powerful. They do not incite fear nor do they cause utter paralysis. They suggest moving forward, rebirth and innovation.

I spoke to a business owner in Ireland recently and he told me he has a wonderful chef. Wonderful in the kitchen, but awful at managing the kitchen budget. While cleaning out some freezers during this period of closure he soon learned how much money was being wasted. This was not something he would ever have discovered during the normal course of business. This was a good thing as his kitchen is currently going through a complete overhaul.

Charity stores here in the United States have been receiving unprecedented amounts of donated clothing and household goods. People have been cleaning out cupboards, attics and garages. Businesses have been doing the very same and it is not a bad thing really. I am clearing contacts from my LinkedIn account. Clearing contacts from my phone. I have thrown many business cards away. Not because of clutter, but because I do not know them or I do not do business with them. I will value my time more. I have created a new model. I am trying to recall a time I contacted an attorney or tax adviser and offered them a coffee in order to pick their brain. The answer is never. On the occasions I have ‘picked their brain’ I received an invoice in return. People pay for time and knowledge.

In every industry, there are people who simply do the bare minimum, there are people who do things fairly well and then there are people who simply excel at what they do. I think we will see the cream rise to the top in the year and years ahead. I believe people are re-evaluating their business models and hopefully - and more importantly - re-evaluating their time a lot more.

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