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The future is now!

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In an exclusive interview, Harry Gatterer, Managing Director of the “Zukunftsinstitut” reveals how Corona has changed the working world forever – and why the gastronomy industry may be headed for a battle in the trenches…

Optimist? Realist!

Burying your head in the sand now is not an option for futurologist and management consultant Harry Gatterer. Instead, entrepreneurs must develop long-term visions as well as make investments. The gastronomy industry, on the other hand, could be ruined by its current corona tactics.

Mr Gatterer, everyone is talking about the “world after Corona”, as well as the “new normality”. Do you consider this to be an exaggeration? Do you really believe the working world will be different after Corona?

Corona has already changed the working world. This lasting effect will definitely be felt. On the one hand, we have taken an absolute crash course into the digital world. In other words, we basically relearned overnight how to deal with and work with the technical infrastructure. Right now it’s not just about home office, which will become increasingly widespread in the future, but also about addressing the general question: Where do we need to encounter actual people, and where is it not necessary? We are not only talking about office workplaces, but also about the hotel business, for example. Sure, guests come. But the question is, will I stay in touch with this hotel when I’m not on vacation? In other words, as a guest, can I also be part of the hotel experience during the year, for example, through webinars? I’m convinced that’s what will happen. However, for a business, it will also call for a new quality of working methods, ideas and technical environment. Thus, in many ways, we will sense that the working world is and will be different than before Corona.

CoVid future foodservice

Image: Suwatchai, stockadobe.com

So if the working environment is going to change irrevocably as a result of Corona, what will this mean for companies? What should they expect? How can they address this new situation?

One thing that is certain is that this is one of the most entrepreneurial times ever.

Why?

Because the shutdown has disrupted structures that cannot simply be revived. This encourages us to create many more creative spaces, to undertake new things in the truest sense of the word. If there is such a thing as advice for entrepreneurs right now, it is that these times calls for maximum creativity. Today, the first thing to do is to consider the questions: Who have I never worked with before? What possibilities do I have to expand my business?

As compelling as this all sounds, in these uncertain times is it at all feasible, let alone realistic, for entrepreneurs to plan for the long term? Isn’t an entrepreneur currently doomed to short-termism? After all, Corona has exposed an uncanny fragility in our value chain …

Actually, the exact opposite is true! Right now I have to think long-term! As an entrepreneur, I obviously need a high degree of adaptability, and to ensure this adaptability, I definitely need to have long-term thinking. If I don’t have that, then I adapt all the time, but I only exhaust myself, because I don’t know what I’m doing this for, or where I’m headed. It may of course feel anti-cyclical to invest now. But what I need now – and this is entrepreneurship by definition! – is the courage to develop a vision of the future that is long-term, and to set out on the path towards it. The word “vision” is also commonly used in this context. By the way, this does not exclude the possibility that you will have to be very flexible in your efforts to get ready for the months ahead. Will there be a second wave, yes or no? No one knows. The majority of entrepreneurs are already getting ready for this eventuality.

Do you agree?

Yes, it really is amazing. At the moment this is really a very widespread approach. Many companies say that we are assuming a second wave with strike, and getting ready for it – in the sense of a disaster scenario, of course. If it doesn’t come, all the better, but you’re prepared either way. But that alone is clearly not good enough as an overall strategy. The real question for a company is not how can I survive the winter, but rather how can I make the best possible use of this time when I need to be highly flexible in order to stay in the game in the long term? This is the only way for a company not only to stay alive, but also make progress.

You get the impression that in the wake of the Corona crisis, the economic perspective has not only been sharpened across the board, but also our understanding of what culture is, or at least what is cultural. Will this new awareness have an impact on gastronomy, and if so, how?

I would add another perspective here. What is happening now is that everything behind the scenes has taken center stage. Suddenly it’s all about everyday heroes, like supermarket employees that were discussed to be replaced by robots. Right now gastronomy has fallen prey to the huge entertainment trend. Gastronomy was not previously considered to be part of our cultural heritage, but rather the entertainment sector. That’s why it has followed this path in such a big way and made itself part of the entertainment industry. And this also worked. This being the case, it’s tricky now to say we are now suddenly no longer part of the entertainment industry, but rather a cultural asset.

robots foodservice Restaurant

Image: zinkevych, stockadobe.com

Is that right?

Yes, you could look at it like that. It’s the part of a society’s culture that uses public space. But it’s a tough balancing act. After all, it is an interesting game to make yourself a systemically relevant cultural asset through the back door, so to speak. I simply believe that at the moment there is a lot of thinking about what is fundamentally important and what is not, which has suddenly changed. This is exactly what you will see in gastronomy in the coming weeks and months. However, that remains to be seen. Which gastronomic institutions can actually sustain the cultural task of community and exchange? Which ones are just simple entertainment and might not make it because of that? Because the purely entertainment industry is going to have to undergo a new adjustment.

Is it possible, then, that gastronomy, with its self-initiated discourse of being a significant cultural asset, has brought itself something that it will have to justify even more explicitly in the post-Corona era?

Exactly, it’s now at an ethical crossroads. Because suddenly saying, We’re pub culture!, sure, you can do that. However, I do not know too many gastronomic establishments that are strictly pubs. Many establishments are simply performance venues and entertainment facilities, which is really not a bad thing. I’m only saying that when you get this discussion going, you have to think carefully about what you’re doing. And I don’t think that is what’s happening. Instead, a moral bashing party quickly started up. In my opinion, this is not the time to be moralistic, but rather to be honest. You also have to ask yourself what sort of gastronomy you think we might have to do without in the future. This is certainly not over yet, this gastronomic battle initiated by Corona. It will definitely still leave its mark.

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