Takeaway business booms as restaurants fight to stay open

Linda J. Dodson

As warnings over the spread of coronavirus increase both in number and magnitude, major restaurant chains across the UK have been pulling back from delivery services and halting trade indefinitely.

Businesses such as McDonalds, Greggs, KFC and Nando’s have all closed their doors indefinitely over fears for the safety of their staff.

For many smaller businesses, this is not a decision they can afford to take.

Jay Finlay runs a small restaurant, Legend Deli Roastery, in Southend with his partner Joanne Brown and employs just two members of staff.

In normal times, the restaurant is able to seat around 30 customers and is popular with locals for its Sunday roasts, burgers and curries.

Since the Government forced all restaurants to close their doors to diners last month, what was once a small part of Legend Deli Roastery’s business has become its main source of income.

Demand among customers for the restaurant’s meals to be delivered to their door has soared by more than 400pc compared with the same period a year earlier, forcing the firm to knock out as many as 30 dishes an hour.

“Sales have gone up exponentially but it’s hard to handle,” Finlay says. 

“We’re only opening two nights a week plus we’re doing a roast delivery on Sunday. So our hours are now crammed into five hours on a Friday night, five hours on a Saturday night and seven hours on a Sunday and it’s like doing a week’s worth of work in 17 hours.”

SpiceBox, an Indian vegan restaurant based in east London, set up a delivery service for the first time after the lockdown was announced.

Grace Regan, Spice Box’s founder, says: “The first weekend was crazy and we quickly had to adapt our operations, completely changing how the kitchen and front of house teams work. 

“We now have the ability to knock out hundreds of meals every hour, which is necessary on the weekends.” 

The UK is a nation of takeaway lovers, with a typical consumer forking out an average of £451 a year on deliveries of cuisines from Indian to Chinese.

According to industry data by Mintel, 23pc of adults order a takeaway once a week or more, and a third order one at least every month.

Britain’s love of takeaways has been fuelled in recent years by the rise in delivery firms such as UberEats, Deliveroo and Just Eat, which give consumers the ability to order restaurant quality meals to their front door.

However, many smaller firms have resorted to providing their own delivery service during the crisis as hefty commissions charged by delivery operators make it difficult to turn a profit.

Sandra Leong, director of Old Chang Kee, a London-based Singaporean street food chain, says: “While delivery platforms are helpful, they have not looked at reducing commission rates (usually around 30pc of gross sales). 

“During normal times they are very helpful as a way of bringing in extra sales but to rely on them solely isn’t viable for many people (us included) at the moment. Imagine giving away 30pc of everything you sell in times when every penny counts.”

Old Deli Roastery had been offering delivery to customers through Just Eat prior to the pandemic but now also operates its own service alongside this in an effort to keep costs down.

Finlay says of delivery operators: “It’s like having a person in your firm just walking around doing nothing but giving orders, they come at such a rate.”

The crisis has also thrown up issues in maintaining supply chains, as wholesalers push up prices and safety precautions force many factories to shut down or reduce capacity.

Creams, a dessert chain with 80 parlours across the UK, has closed its own factory and a number of sites that are too small to ensure staff can work at a safe distance from each other.

Elton Gray, commercial and operations director at Creams, says the current situation has forced the business to adapt its menu according to what ingredients are available, a temporary measure that he believes could encourage more positive behaviour around sustainability in the future.

“I think sustainability is going to become even more important when we come out of this because people are conscious of every little scrap of food in the fridge,” he says.

“I don’t want to be sticking loads of food into the warehouse that is not going to get used, that doesn’t feel right in the current climate. So we’ll open our warehouse when it’s the right time to do so.”

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