The impact of COVID-19 has created so many changes for businesses. One of the key changes we've seen for restaurant and pub businesses is the move to takeout orders.
Data from Kantar shows that deliveries rose sharply in the week before the first lockdown (March 16-22) and delivery trips rose 57 percent year-on-year.
According to MCA's Channel Pulse poll (April 6-12), the average number of times people used takeaway delivery was 2.3 times this week.
"There have been several success stories of the distress this year has brought to the hospitality, events and catering industries, but the biggest one I think was the take-away climb," said Charlie Dean, managing director of packaging company, Catering24.
Not only has it kept a number of our businesses alive during this most difficult time, but it has also increased the quality of the market to a level we have not seen before. "
This article examines how to convert your pub or restaurant to a take-away model and what considerations to consider before doing the shift.
What you need to keep your pub or restaurant focused on takeout and delivery
To make things easier, we've broken down the key elements in shifting your focus to takeaway and delivery.
How to take orders
The first is somewhat obvious: think about where to put your pickup and delivery orders. An online ordering system is easier because orders can be placed when you take care of other areas of the business.
From here the main question is whether you are taking orders through Deliveroo, Uber Eats, and Just Eat. On the plus side, they could give you more contact with locals looking for a takeout place that, in turn, could bring you more business. However, you will reduce your order fee appropriately – in some cases by as much as 30 percent. You also need to rely on someone outside of the company to handle deliveries for you.
Of course, it doesn't have to be an either-or scenario: you can opt for both. Nor does it have to be about dealing with an overly complicated new technology. You could have a terminal in your POS system that allows you to take orders online. Many POS systems can accept integrations from payment providers that make this easier.
> See also: The essential guide to POS systems
Speaking of POS: If you are not yet set up for cashless payments, you should definitely consider this. Many customers, especially in cities, have no cash with them. Since minimal contact is desirable during COVID-19, customers will be looking for companies that accept cashless payments more cheaply.
The final point to consider here is whether or not you will opt for phone orders. Be aware that phone orders may leave staff leaving the kitchen or taking deliveries for an extended period of time, which may not be the most beneficial move for you. That said, you could lose customers who prefer the phone.
The safety conditions in your pub or restaurant are of the utmost importance anyway, but even more critical during COVID-19.
According to social distancing guidelines, it may be in your best interest to have fewer employees working, whether in bubbles or staggered shifts. Keep hand sanitizer in different areas of your pub or restaurant and encourage staff to wash their hands and clean the equipment more often.
Try to keep your kitchen workers and delivery people separate so that there is less chance of the virus spreading.
Do you have a limited menu?
To reduce costs and food waste, some restaurants have chosen to limit their menu to the most popular products. This can vary depending on the type of food you are serving and how often your menu usually changes.
What about packaging?
In times when takeout is more common, consumers have become more aware of the packaging demand they are creating.
"Before the three-month peak of COVID-19 (during the national lockdown), our company would have sold half a million paper cups," said Charlie Dean, general manager at Catering24. “We haven't sold any during that time. But our sales of microwave-safe containers for food and plastic went over the roof. "
He added that paper cup sales rose again after the initial lockdown began. "It's a measure of how the trends are going and what is happening in our industry."
Dean talks about the popularity of burger boxes, saying that they would normally come in a styrofoam container. Since COVID, bars and restaurants have put a lot of thought into the packaging in which to sell their premium food.
"They have moved on to a premium cardboard style that opens up into a platter," he said. "Foil containers with lids were particularly popular at Sunday lunches."
How do you let your customers know that you offer take-away?
Next, look at your marketing. It's not time to get new customers. Instead, turn to your existing customer database. This is even better if you have a CRM because you can send more targeted emails based on what your customers know. If you choose to have emails and / or offers, send them towards the evening when customers are more likely to be looking for restaurants.
> See also: The best CRM system for your small business
For those who don't have CRM, social media is always useful here. You already have a loyal customer base with whom, ideally, you communicate regularly. Keep up the good work if you switch to takeout – let them know how to order from you and what items you have available for delivery.
Could moving to a take-away model change my business?
Chances are that this focus on takeaway will transform your business in the long run. Even after the lockdown wears off, some people – especially the vulnerable – will still be less sure about coming to eat. So it's worth keeping the takeaway running. It can also open you up to a new market in the form of people who prefer takeout rather than eat out.
Any long-term changes you make should be included in an updated business plan.
How we moved our business to takeaway and delivery
It's good to share some tips with you on how to switch to take-away, but it's better to hear them from other small businesses. We spoke to two restaurants that focused on takeout during the peak of COVID-19. Here's how they did it.
Tanisha Broady, owner of Rock of Virtue, Cambridge
When Tanisha took over Rock of Virtue, which at the time was selling tea, coffee and sandwiches, she decided to offer a Caribbean food menu. And she's glad she did. She believes this has kept her business alive through the toughest parts of 2020. She drew attention to takeaway during the nationwide lockdown in March.
How did you get started with taking takeaway orders? What practical steps did you take?
We were already registered with Deliveroo and JustEat to be honest. So that we could go to our snack bar first, we only rearranged ourselves in the café.
What about talking to your customers? How did you let them know you were just take out and delivery?
The reorganization of the cafe will ensure customers know they will not be able to sit when they arrive. We also put a notice on the door to let customers know that we only offer takeout and delivery.
We also have a lot of students. At first I gave most of them business cards. And that was before the lockdown. You can call and pre-order and we will have your meal ready. And that means they don't have to come and wait. It prevents things from getting overcrowded, otherwise we could only accommodate two or three people at a time.
I found that people have been very, very helpful working with us because they are obviously our customers and want to see the best for us. It was very easy for us to communicate with our customers. Most of our customers come back to us every day. And you know, we have some that will call. They will ask if they can order and I've always said yes, you can order and it is best if you order over the phone. And depending on what you order, I will give you the time by which your food will be ready.
Did you use Facebook more?
Yes. Facebook. We have Instagram and we are also on WhatsApp. I started advertising to say we were staying open and just sent an ad to let people know we are doing pickups and takeaways. Please contact us on our number as we are happy to call pre-orders.
So yeah, definitely, we had to go a lot more on social media to let people know. And we still have people calling. We have a lot of people calling and asking, “Are you open up?” These people probably just had the number and aren't using social media so they aren't aware of it.
I see you have an online ordering option. Is that independent of Deliveroo and Just Eat?
Yes. To be honest, we didn't use delivery platforms that much before the lockdown. Customers kept things going, but the delivery side of things now makes business even better.
The other service we use is Flipdish. This is the one we use the most. We're more comfortable with it because the costs and fees are much lower than Just Eat and Deliveroo, which cost between 30 and 35 percent. I'll be honest with you – even though I'm registered with Deliveroo, I haven't used it in months. I only use Just Eat occasionally.
And yes, Deliveroo and Just Eat are websites where people can know you're open and people can place an order, but in person it's just too much. It's like they're taking away all the profit that you are making.
And how about the kitchen? Did you have to make changes or did you have fewer people in the kitchen to meet guidelines?
Yes, initially the whole COVID thing needs to be changed enough to make sure we are following the guidelines.
Personally, when I saw what was happening on the news, I started adjusting things. I informed my team because we are a family business. I have a volunteer with me and she is a senior citizen so I let her know first as she was my main concern. Although she has no underlying medical conditions, she would be classified as a more vulnerable person.
The March lockdown was really one of the hardest things to do for them. And I didn't want to have to go through the procedure again (for the second lockdown) to tell her, "Look, we're going into a lockdown and you can't get in" because it means everything to her. I started informing them that it is possible there will be another lockdown, but if there is another we will be doing pickups and takeaway deliveries.
How has the size of your menu changed?
There are certain things that I will remove from the menu if we are just working on takeaway. When a customer goes online they are either unavailable or have been hidden. The customer cannot see it. With the food stalls being very different from when they all walked in, you don't have as many steps as you used to.
That is why we are reducing the menu to avoid wastage. We do our best to make sure we deliver what is there instead of a customer ordering something and we don't have it. Hence, it is best for us to minimize the menu.
Do you see takeaways as a long-term change? Or do you think it will be mostly in-house again after the pandemic ends?
Takeout is something I work on in every way. I want to put even more pressure on because we have the (second) suspension and when the weather gets cold people don't look like they used to. You will sit down the kids. This is definitely something we hope and pray for to get back to normal because it is a good thing for us.
This is also good for the customer, because here it is more like a family, a community.
Shortly before the closure, we are also registered for our business as a non-profit.
I've been a cook for so long and someone on the council connected me to the church. I started making 50 servings of soup every day to give to vulnerable people.
Right now we are looking for funding to find the right equipment we need here to focus more on making the Jamaican side of the food. This way we can offer at least seven jobs, professional training and work experience. And training for people to get their food safety hygiene training right from level one to level three.
Paul and Lisa Wedgwood, owners of Wedgwood the Restaurant, Edinburgh
Paul and Lisa Wedgwood of Wedgwood Restaurant in Edinburgh learned a lot about the practicalities of taking away. They offer a fine dining experience at home that has its own pickup and delivery challenges.
What considerations did you have to make before going for takeout?
Paul: We took away before we actually closed. I think the week before we could see it coming when the rest of Europe closed. It was inevitable what was going to happen so we just got ready and put together a menu that we had already made. Then we have to figure out how we want to provide full service in the restaurant and at the same time make something to take away. It was just finding balance for that first week.
And then of course we were shut down. And then it was just take away. And then it came down to how we could safely use whatever inventory we had. We had to lose quite a bit, so we donated it to local food banks.
We note that other restaurants have limited take away menus. I know for you it's a little different that you change your menu from week to week and have a fine dining experience at home. And you have pretty short windows for pickup and delivery.
Lisa: People could choose what they wanted for dinner, but it also became a staple of People's Week. If we didn't change it, they'd have a week and maybe not come back for another month. We change every week and have customers who have ordered almost every week since March because they have something different and their favorites.
Paul: It's almost like being in the restaurant because they don't have to have the same things. So yeah, we just like to stand out.
Lisa: Then there is pickup and delivery that it was something that came about organically because we had never done it before. We just have to consider the safest way to collect COVID. We didn't want third party delivery so we didn't do anything like Uber Eats or Deliveroo or anything like that. We relied on friends to deliver and benefit from people we knew would help us, who knew our branding and who we were. We still felt like it was our brand to the door. The delivery guys didn't know how we wanted everything to be given to the person who ordered it.
Paul: Every single person who delivers to the door knew exactly what was in every single tub. You could answer questions about dietary needs at the time of delivery.
The program you use to take orders – is this the same one you always used, the online form?
Lisa: Our website was set up last year to make buying vouchers easier. We spoke to our web designers to see if we could quickly change the website, make it sharper, and let people buy products. And we could roll it out within a week. We tweak it every now and then and it works for us. The fact that we don't pay fees is great.
With our website we have a payment provider. We chose Stripe so that guests can pay online and everything is very safe. We can't see their details and hope this is an easy process. It worked all these months. I'm sure there are ways we can improve it, but why should we change it when it's working right now?
Paul: That way we made up our mind right away and it seems to work.
If you look at your social media, you have a pretty large online following as you say, people who are pretty loyal. What role does social media play in supporting this pivot?
Lisa: I think we've always been on social media. But the restaurant was still full, so we never pushed it. We just told people what dishes we had. Now that there is nobody in the restaurant we have to tell people what we are doing and it is our local market. And you need to talk to everyone, to people who live in the Lothians around us and who we want to buy our products with, so we ran some Facebook ads.
Paul: We have been inundated with inquiries – I mean absolutely inundated. We started with a three or five mile delivery and then it got bigger and farther outside of Edinburgh with bags in for example Livingston. It only made sense to say, "Okay, we're going to use one driver just for the trip to Livingston," which mostly was me. I would pick up most of the routes in West Lothian.
I managed to work my way out of the main kitchen prep, I just oversee it now. And then I was really invested and involved in the delivery side of things. Most of my team came back from vacation to meet demand.
If it's something you warm up at home, removal is probably less of a problem.
Lisa: Yes, we deliver cold food to be reheated, but everything is delivered at the right temperature. We ask the guest to put it in the refrigerator until it is ready. We make the instructions very easy to follow.
Paul: When I write the menu, I write with the cooking instructions in mind, rather than the dishes. It just means you have three different options for each course. I try to write it in a way that makes it very easy for the customer to set up in the end.
Do you take orders both by phone and online?
Lisa: I try to get the guests to order online as they keep track of everything and feel safe. This is a great way to track orders yourself and to make sure no mistakes have been made.
And it's easier to have everything online. It also helps balance you with COVID restrictions and social distancing. What kind of changes did you make in the kitchen to accommodate these changes?
Paul: Well a kitchen is a difficult environment to make safe. But in that sense we are all working side by side and no one is working face to face. It's just a long pantry, if you will. Then we improved our cleaning and followed the advice on high contact points and similar things. When I started delivering, I stopped preparing in the kitchen. I focused more on writing menus and getting the supplies out as everything grew and expanded.
Lisa: All of them are moved on site and checked regularly. We are very happy that everyone on the team was good and that no one we came in contact with had COVID so we count our blessings.
With what happened this year, do you think the focus on takeout will be more of a long-term focus, enough to even change your original business plan?
Lisa: I think we always will because now we know how to do it. The bare bones are there. It made us realize what we can do and how we can do it efficiently. We always will, but I think our love and joy is to have people in the restaurant who offer that kind of wonderful food where we can wait for our guests.
We can't wait to come back to this point as well. But we enjoy that part of it and bring what we can to people's homes.
Paul: I bypassed it in July when the lockdown function wore off and we introduced an outdoor service for the home. I just brought a mobile kitchen into someone else's backyard and set up a small restaurant in his backyard. That has definitely become a new part of the business model.
Since the restrictions have brought new weapons to the business and the situation is dire, it has had a positive impact.
Lisa: I think as any business owner you have to figure out how to survive. And if you unfortunately don't, then that is the end of the business. We have 20 employees and we knew they were counting on us to employ them. Every single one of our employees was 100 percent behind us, we have not made any layoffs and are open to the next year. And they have normalcy and the same team. We also thank our team because Paul and I have evolved and it was also a very tough slog, but we enjoyed it.
Paul: During training I never thought for a second that my food would end up in plastic tubs!
Lisa: It has to be a consideration because the food not only has to taste good, it also has to look good when it arrives. It also has to be easy to prepare. I'm Paul's wife and I don't cook. He writes the recipes and then I'll read them and ask him more questions: How much oil did you put in the pan, what is the temperature and how long? I know these are the questions I would ask. Someone reading them needs to be confident that they can prepare dinner.
What advice would you give restaurant and pub owners who are on their way to take away?
Lisa: Don't change yourself too much because people come to you, because you are what you are already doing.
Paul: They want to see you so don't try to change what you're doing. All you have to do is refine the actual things that you are doing.
Lisa: And I would say ask other companies for help. In the hotel industry, we all come together when we need to.
Paul: During the lockdown, we all talked to each other about shipping costs. It wouldn't be good if we all came in at ridiculously inflated costs. Quite a few of us spoke early on – it brought us together.
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