The Lowdown: Window service

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Photo credit: the Wine Window Association
Photo credit: the Wine Window Association

Related tags: Coronavirus

From kebabs being served out of a domestic kitchen window, to the revival of a medieval tradition, a number of businesses have begun to explore unique ways of reaching customers.

Is Heston Blumenthal going to be parachuting into people’s homes with a plate of meat fruit?
That sounds a little extreme. Although, with Heston, anything is possible we suppose. But either way, these ideas are a bit more practical.

Tell me more
Having forced to stop trading during the lockdown, and with high streets now suffering from a severely reduced footfall, chefs and operators have begun exploring and investing in new ways to reach customers. Take Dan Kenny, for example, chef patron of trendy Brighton restaurant The Set. With his restaurant still closed, Kenny has launched Five Star Kebabs, which he’s serving directly to customers out of his kitchen window.

What, like a drive-thru?
Sort of, but in a more domestic setting, and you have to get out of the car. At the moment Kenny is serving between 35 and 40 kebabs for takeaway every Wednesday. The only way to place an order is to DM the chef via Instagram. It’s a cash only, collection only concept, operating exclusively from the kitchen window of Kenny’s home in Brighton. The menu is small, with only two kebab options available each week - typically one meat and one vegan. Fillings can include wagyu ox tongue with dill pickles, Italian summer truffle and sancho pepper; and chicken with camembert, kimchi tomatoes, gem lettuce, ‘not Dominoes’ sauce, and crispy chicken skin. 

Mmm, they sound good. Are there any businesses in the capital doing something similar?
Many are pivoting or reconfiguring their business plans to reach as broad a market as possible. There’s Dalston-based bakery Dusty Knuckle which has repurposed a milk float to take bread and pastries to customers across the city. Every week the bakery posts a schedule on its website of where the float will be visiting, with customers encouraged to rustle up interest from neighbours if they want it to come to their street. 

And are customers using the service?
It certainly appears that way, with various pictures of the milk float travelling across London being posted on the Dusty Knuckle’s social media. And it’s by no means the only example. As reported by The Guardian ​earlier this month, Livewire Kitchen co-founder Zoe Watkins has closed two of her three cafes and has switched operations to a van called Little Livewire. Like the cafes, the van sells a selection of coffee, superfoods and natural, energy-boosting drinks. Watkins told the paper that the business is talking to people locally to determine where the van visits. “Each area has a Facebook community and we’re talking to them, saying we can come to one place every Wednesday morning, another place on Thursday, and so on,” she said. 

The crisis facing the hospitality sector isn’t exclusive to England at the moment. Presumably businesses in other countries are exploring similar innovations to their model?
Absolutely, look at Italy, particularly Tuscany, where businesses have begun reviving the Italian plague tradition of serving alcohol out of a medieval ‘wine window’.

Sorry, what?
It’s every bit as strange as it sounds. We’re talking about pint-size hatches carved into the concrete walls of urban wineries and shops, where beverage merchants can serve glasses of vino Rosso or Bianco at a safe social distance. According to Florentine scholar Francesco Rondinelli, wine windows rose to prominence in 17th century Florence as a means of preventing the spread of the plague in the city. The Metro ​reports that over 150 wine windows have reopened in Florence. The windows, known as ‘buchette del vino’, are looked after by the Wine Window Association​, which was created by three Florentines in 2015. A post on the association’s website reads: “Everyone is confined to home for two months and then the government permits a gradual reopening. During this time, some enterprising Florentine Wine Window owners have turned back the clock and are using their Wine Windows to dispense glasses of wine, cups of coffee, drinks, sandwiches and ice cream — all germ-free, contactless.”

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