Financial analysts on Bloomberg are always saying stuff like, “Challenges also bring real opportunities.” That was certainly true for some stocks last year. While most businesses tanked, companies such as Amazon and Netflix raked in the profits. (Quick show of hands – who else happily overindulged in home shopping, home entertainment and home food delivery while stuck at home with nothing to do wait out the pandemic?) Now that Covid-19 vaccines are rolling out, people across the world are eagerly anticipating a so-called return to “normal” – whatever that will be. It stands to reason the tectonic plates are about to shift and change the social and economic landscape again. People want to travel, go out to eat, and drunkenly French-kiss strangers in a bar. But as we collectively emerge from pandemic isolationism, I wonder if it all will be “same as it ever was” again. Can the world simply revert to pre-2020 conditions or has that boat sailed for good? The answer is important particularly for the food and beverage industry. The past year has been tough for restaurant owners, but I think the immediate future will be just as uncertain. Will everyone in Hong Kong start to dine out in the numbers we were once used to seeing? Or are we so used to ordering online that the industry paradigm changed for good? I don’t know this answer and I really don’t envy restaurateurs who have to hedge their bets in this futures market. Takeaway food is no longer confined to pizza and noodles. During the lockdown, every fine-dining restaurant had to adapt and offer its own gourmet meal-to-go for sophisticated dining at home. That’s a convenience I’m not sure some folks are ready to give up. Plenty of apps have violently disrupted many industries already. There’s no reason to think the food and beverage industry will be immune to it. Three chefs on their ‘plan Bs’ to survive pandemic punch On the other hand, my gut says humans are social beings, so, after such a long confinement, we’ll go to the other extreme and party, travel and enjoy life like there’s no tomorrow. Hong Kong flats are still as small as they ever were and the longing to escape remains constant. Optimists would say the hospitality field should expect a new boom even bigger than the explosion of new restaurants after fears about the severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic evaporated in 2003. However, I was in Hong Kong’s Central district for dinner last weekend and many areas still felt like a ghost town. Food and beverage staff are telling me the recovery is slow even as rules are being relaxed. Admittedly, we are still restricted to four per table, so many Chinese restaurants, which depend on larger groups and family gatherings, are still hamstrung. Another unknown is what becomes of the home cooking boom during Covid-19. We’ve all seen the endless sourdough loaves and impressive home-made dishes on social media, prepared by people who didn’t start to cook at all until lockdown forced them to be self-sufficient. When normalcy returns, are they going to give up after investing in all the cooking trays, Le Creuset enamelware and Kitchen Aid mixers? Cooking is one of those things you won’t excel at unless you really enjoy it. If you don’t care about what you eat, you’d just make instant noodles for dinner. It takes passion and dedication to properly roast a chicken or perfect a creamy risotto. I’ve seen the increase in people buying baking supplies at shops like Twins Co and I Love Cake, the noticeable expansion of gourmet delis and specialised ingredient delivery services, and, heck, even the rise of organic vegetable stalls in some wet markets. Can home cooking continue to flourish at the same time that there’s a boom in meals and drinks out at the city’s restaurants and bars? I don’t know if this is a zero-sum game, but if I was a hospitality entrepreneur, I wouldn’t put all my eggs in one basket. I would serve half of them in a restaurant and sell the others online.