For all the devastation the coronavirus crisis has caused across the sector, casual dining will come out the other side transformed for the better, Ian Edward has said.

Edward, who holds the role of non-executive director at brands including Pizza Pilgrims, Hippo Inns and Thunderbird Fried Chicken, told MCA’s The Conversation that given the fast-pace growth and sometimes unexceptional offer of certain casual dining operators, the subsector is due a significant overhaul.

“Casual dining is a relatively young industry that’s grown very fast, and a number of brands have grown far too fast,” he said. “A lot of the product in the middle part of casual dining has not offered good value for money, it’s not being particularly special, and it will have to do better.”

“When we come out of this, I think it will.”

Noting that in times of crisis, business transformation is usually necessary and therefore inevitable, Edward added that in terms of product, price and innovation “the crisis will accelerate better stuff in our industry overall.”

“Nobody expected this,” he said. “But I think we’ll come out of it a lot bigger and stronger.”

In light of this, he added that he was “very encouraged” by the response and overall crisis-management of one of his brands in particular – Pizza Pilgrims.

Given the London-centric nature of the 13-strong restaurant operator, it was in prime position to feel the impact of the capital’s sharp and sudden drop in footfall, an issue that is still ongoing.

However, from the start of the crisis the brand immediately adapted, spearheading the lockdown trend of DIY meal kits with its own cook-at-home ‘Pizza Box’ kits.

“They went from virtually nothing to almost 1000 kits a day,” Edward explained. And although “trade has been very good since they’ve gone back,” he added that co-founders Thom and James Elliot have continued to innovate in other areas, including the creation of the ‘Pizza Pilgrim Picnic.’

“I take my hat off to them,” he said. “They’re a young team, and I think they’ve really shown not only great innovation, but they’ve managed their cash well, and they’ve been very mature.”

“The numbers are inevitably down on where they were, but I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen, and I think it shows great skill in the people who run the business.”

And beyond this particular case study, there are reasons to be positive when considering the sector as a whole, added UK Hospitality CEO Kate Nicholls.

Last week, UK Hospitality and CGA’s industry tracker revealed that the industry, including those premises that remain closed, was recording approximately 44% of pre-coronavirus revenues.

Whilst this may not seem like a reason to celebrate, Nicholls explained that of those venues that are open, “the green shoots are a little bit stronger, and people are nudging back up towards that critical 70% of normal revenues, at which it might be possible to break even.”

“Over the course of the last four weeks, we have seen steady signs of growth and steady signs of improvement,” she said. “In the initial week, we had one in five consumers coming out to eat and drink, and over the course of the month that’s doubled, which is a hugely important milestone to be getting towards.”

“Those premises that are open are seeing better like-for-likes than perhaps they might have expected four weeks ago. It’s nowhere near good enough, but it is improving steadily and slowly.”