Posted: 01/09/2020

Foodservice: Innovative thinking can keep revenue up with social distancing still in place

Cafés and restaurants have reopened across the UK and many have been taking advantage of the government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme. Now the offer has ended and, with social distancing still in place, covers remain reduced. And in many cases so are profits.

One thing that can bring up the bottom line is to increase average spend, and one West Midlands farm shop is doing just that. Farmer’s Fayre has had to flip its offer in response to the change in customer base brought on by COVID-19.

“We are in a business park which previously had around 2,500 people working in it every day and now there’s only a few hundred,” says director Nicola Reece. 

“Our customer base is changing daily, our marketing is changing daily and we are having to think outside the box to survive.”

Having recently launched a new menu to reflect this shift in trade with fewer fast-service items and more dining options, Reece is seeing customers fork out a little more.

“Now our customers are from off the park and are looking to come and have a proper meal with us, we’ve made the menu much more versatile – they can have a proper steak or just a toastie,” she says. “People are spending more time with us, too, and where our average spend was around £8 when we were in the fast-moving lunch trade, now it’s £10-12.”

While expanding the menu and encouraging a longer stay is working at Farmer’s Fayre, on the Rhug Estate in Denbighshire, North Wales, owner Lord Newborough is taking the opposite approach.

Before lockdown, the business operated a bistro-style restaurant, The Bison Grill, but Lord Newborough has adjusted to reflect what customers wanted from indoor dining with coronavirus still present. 

“We had to assess our customers’ needs and my concern was trading for the future – I think we are going to go into one of the world’s biggest ever recessions,” he says. 

“To have bums on the seats for an extended period in a bistro would be costly. I thought it would be more appropriate to be able to turn our tables faster and offer a sort of ‘Pret A Manger-plus’ type of fare.”

The kitchen has been scaled back – negating the need for expensive chefs – and the eatery rebranded as Café Rhug, offering salads, pasta, quiches, ‘easy dining’, and a range of off-the-shelf items such as sandwiches and muffins to try to make up for the slash in potential indoor covers from 90 to 45. 

“Costs are down, customer turnover is quicker and more important than anything is what appears on the bottom line,” says Lord Newborough. “We have the takeaway offering hot food like burgers, curries and chillies and the drive-thru for a contact-free service, and having the café open reduces some of the strain on these outlets.”

For those with even fewer options as far as seating is concerned, some innovative thinking is required. Buckinghamshire-based deli No.2 Pound Street has had its covers cut by 80% from around 40 to only eight over just two tables outside, but, the shop’s director, James Grant says he is launching a project to boost the offer. 

“We’ve invested £3,000 in expanding our outdoor area. We’ve bought four branded gazebos and some authentic bierkeller tables which can seat eight people.”

These will be placed on the marketplace which sits opposite No.2 and will allow those who want the sit-down experience to be able to enjoy the lunches, platters and tastings the deli offers.

“We went for gazebos to allow people to eat outside and feel safer, but then – as we live in the UK – if it starts raining we’re covered.”

Launching new concepts and being versatile has been the flavour of 2020, and Stoneleigh-based Farmer’s Fayre is no exception. “Pre lockdown we were renovating our garden for corporate events,” says Reece, “and one thing we invested in was a wood-fired oven which we weren’t planning on using day-to-day. Now, though, we are making fresh pizzas on Wednesdays and Saturdays and we’re also using it to cook briskets and short ribs and have added them to the weekly menu.”

Alongside this, the farm shop has added “higher spend luxury items” such as picnic boxes, pub lunches and afternoon teas to the menu to try and push the spend up even more and offer something for everyone. “We’ve got such a mix of customers right now it’s hard to pinpoint what is right, but what we’re trying to do is stay versatile and get as much spend as possible within different people’s budgets,” says Reece.

Whatever you do, ensuring you are flexible and offering your customers what they want – whether they are old or new – is key to operating profitably in these unique times. 

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