The Government’s decision to temporarily close all of the UK’s restaurants, bars and pubs last Friday (20 March) felt like the inevitable culmination to a week that ravaged the hospitality sector. It began on Monday (16 March) with the Prime Minister advising people to avoid visiting pubs, bars and restaurants in a bid to ‘flatten the curve’ of the Covid-19 Coronavirus outbreak, an announcement that led to an estimated immediate loss of up to a million jobs across the sector. Reservations fell through the floor, and soon many operators were pre-empting Johnson’s announcement and choosing to temporarily shutter sites.
Others, however, have chosen to diversify their offer in a bid to retain a semblance of cashflow, to help pay both rent and staff (although many will opt to now cover the latter under the Government’s recently announced ‘job retention scheme’). Some have sold gift vouchers; others have launched community shops; and some have turned to takeaway and delivery.
In the past, any restaurant wishing to operate as a hot food takeaway needed to obtain separate planning permission to do so, those rules have now been relaxed, allowing operators to offer the service without it for the next 12 months. Set up with a delivery platform is often quite quick, and although they all charge a punchy commission, some have created packages to help support restaurateurs looking to explore this option for their business.
Just Eat, for example, has announced a 30-day ‘emergency support package’ for restaurants including a 33% rebate on commission fees; removing commission completely on collection orders, and waiving sign-up fees for new operators joining its platform until 19 April.
Tapping into takeaway
Across the country restaurants quickly turned to exploring potential takeaway and delivery options. In London, Black Axe Mangal was one of the first to announce it was repurposing its restaurant as a takeaway for the duration of the crisis (although it has since announced it will cease operations temporarily); in Edinburgh, Roberta Hall and Shaun McCarron launched a temporary collection and home delivery service at their renowned neighbourhood bistro The Little Chartroom; and in York, chef Tommy Banks announced that his restaurant Roots would be serving a takeaway menu including a set roast dinner option for Mother’s Day.
“Offering delivery was always something we’d steered away from in the past,” says Will Bowlby, co-founder of modern Indian restaurant group Kricket, which last week launched a temporary takeaway service through Deliveroo. “Our restaurants had always been busy enough as they were, but a situation like this means you have to be proactive and explore every avenue available in order to keep some cashflow coming in.”
Bowlby adds that while there was no specific motive behind the decision to go with Deliveroo over another platform (each charges a similar commission), but says that Kricket did receive a lot of help from Deliveroo; contacting them to set up the service on Monday (16 March), and being ready to launch the service on Wednesday (18 March).
“The support team were very good at helping us get up to speed with installing the system, and it allowed for a very smooth operation on opening night,” he says. “Indeed, we ended up being so busy on the first night we had to briefly take ourselves off the system in order for the kitchen to catch up.”
Despite successfully launching the takeaway element, Kricket has since announced the complete shut down of its restaurants for the duration of the crisis (although it hasn’t ruled out offering delivery through Deliveroo again in the future). Others, however, are continuing to try and operate a delivery service for now.
Simplifying the offer
James Ramsden and Sam Herlihy have added their King’s Cross-based premium sandwich restaurant Sons + Daughters to Deliveroo, while their fine dining restaurant Pidgin in Hackney has been repurposed to offer collection-only takeaway (called Homing Pidgin), with delivery potentially available in the same postcode, if necessary, organised directly by the restaurant itself.
“There’s a very close community around Pidgin, so we didn’t feel that offering it on a large delivery platform would be suitable for the brand,” says Ramsden. “The idea was to offer a menu of dishes that people could order in advance, collect on the afternoon, and then reheat at home.
“We’ve heavily simplified the menu, and we’re not trying to imply people will get exactly the same meal as they would at the restaurant, which is reflected in the reduced price. But it does mean diners can still get a selection of awesome dishes cooked by our chefs and using the same ingredients, which we felt would appeal our regulars.”
Both Bowlby and Ramsden note that number of considerations that must be made before venturing into delivery/takeaway territory, with suitable packaging and menu items being key to the operation.
“It’s important to bear in mind what travels well and what doesn’t,” says Bowlby.
“You have to keep the same ethos towards food that you would have if you were serving it in the restaurant. With delivery, all of the focus is on your product, so you need make sure the packaging is suitable and that the dishes you choose to serve travel well, so that you can make the most out of the situation.”
BigHospitality has consulted various industry experts as part of its# UnitedWeStand campaign to offer support to the industry at this time. If you are a restaurant business looking to take advantage of the relaxed rules on takeaway and delivery, click here, to read advice on the things you need to consider.
UnitedWeStand has been created by William Reed hospitality titles BigHospitality, Restaurant magazine and Morning Advertiser and is supported by Arla Pro, McCain and Unilever Food Solutions.