Takeaway services provide ‘lifeline’ for hospitality businesses

Businesses say they enjoy the sense of normality the takeaway service provides but are worried about how they will operate in the future

FOOD delivery services have become the ‘new normal’ for some hospitality businesses since their closure in late March due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

With the introduction of reduced menus, delivery services and pick up points for customers, restaurateurs and hotel owners say a move to takeaway food has not only given them a means of income but a sense of normality during the crisis.

Rachel Chisholm, co-owner of Leftfield in Edinburgh with her partner and chef Phil, launched a seafood platter pre-collection service in late April. The pair publish menus on their website, Leftfield at Home, every Sunday and open online orders on Mondays at 12pm; customers then collect their pre-ordered seafood platters on Fridays and Saturdays from the venue.

Chisholm said: “Over the weeks we’ve realised people are buying our food for occasions, for friends and families and to help boost morale for themselves, and for us.  It’s good to know that they’ve been using our food as a way to connect and care for each other. We’re a neighbourhood bistro and people really do want to support their local businesses and it’s been amazing to feel hopeful again.

“It’s hard work as our staff are furloughed and it’s just the two of us at the moment working long hours to get everything done. It does feel good to be doing something though, it’s been overwhelming but fantastic to hear feedback from the customers and I love all the reasons why folk order and some I know are ordering to show their support and keep us upright.”

There are still concerns, however. Chisholm, who hopes to continue the collection service in the future, said strict social distancing measures would not be feasible in their 22-cover venue.

She said: “I worry about our staff and if they will have jobs with us to come back to but that really depends on if and how we return to the old way of operating. Our venue is tiny – we can only sit 22 guests – so you can imagine what social distancing rules would do to our business. We did some quick maths and we’d need to open 14 hours a day and have each customer up their spend by something ridiculous like 300%, just to pay the bills.”

Meanwhile, in Glasgow, Nick Rietz, head chef and owner of fine dining restaurant Bilson Eleven, operates his home dining service – a selection of meals for one or two which are available to collect on Fridays and Saturdays – alone and said that setting up the takeaway service was a quick process but he found ordering the right quantities of ingredients a challenge.

Reitz said: “The home dining service took shape very quickly and I tried to keep the same ethos from which we run the restaurant which is based around small quantities and high quality but with more homely dishes, however the initial stage was tricky figuring out portion sizes, ability to reheat meals and I am sure a few things have gone wrong along the way.

Although Rietz can spend more time with his family during lockdown, the routine of cooking meals for customers has helped him find a sense of normality during the crisis.

“On a personal level I have been able to spend an amazing amount of time with my family. I’m sure everyone knows the silly hours chefs work so to have this downtime with my wife and young children is precious. Still coming into work Friday and Saturday definitely helps with a sense of normality and I think that is what our customers are maybe looking for just as much as good food – that wee bit of regularity to stop the feeling of Groundhog Day!”

Rietz, who also provides meals to a local care charity every Friday, said that his home dining service may continue when lockdown eases as strict social distancing measures could jeopardise the survival of his business.

“I would love to think that when the decision is made to open restaurants again we could just open our doors and carry on where we left off. Unfortunately this is highly unlikely so we will have to see what restrictions are put in place. If they are similar to those restaurants in Italy who are beginning to exit the lockdown then like many restaurants we will not survive for very long so we may continue the home dining after the lockdown to support us until the restrictions are eased.”

Manager of Uplawmoor Hotel Emma Peacock runs a daily takeaway service with her husband Stuart. As the only hospitality venue in the village, the hotel – which does not qualify for any financial support from the Scottish Government’s grant scheme due to its rateable value – opens its reception area between five o’clock and seven o’clock each day for customers to collect meals.

Peacock, who undertook training on batch cooking and food safety standards from her general manager and head chef during the first week in lockdown, said she launched a village newsletter to maintain momentum on the takeaway services on offer.

Peacock said: ”The initial uptake for the takeaway was good but began to tail away until we did a village newsletter which was posted around the doors and reached a lot of the elderly in the community who do not use social media; it was a more personal message to the village and we have definitely experienced an uplift.

“Obviously as there are only two of us there is a limit on what we can do in terms of numbers; we also have all the other jobs to cover keeping the premises clean and secure and our paperwork.

“Public reaction has been very good and there is a real sense of appreciation and support for the service we have been offering. For us, we have received a valuable lifeline both financially and emotionally in terms of being able to provide a level of service to our community and normality to what is now an empty shell of a building which was previously the social hub of the village.”