How indies are adapting their foodservice operations during lockdown
When PM Boris Johnson announced the closure of all cafés, pubs, bars and restaurants in March, it forced many farm shops, food halls and delicatessens to close one of the most lucrative parts of their business.
Despite this, some resilient indies have repurposed their whole foodservice operations and staff members overnight to serve their communities and survive during these unprecedented times.
Haley & Clifford, a deli-café in Leeds, turned its closed café area into additional retail space, allowing more room for social distancing and essential food items like tinned tomatoes, flour, and milk that it wouldn’t ordinarily have sold.
The deli continues to sell pastries, quiches, cakes, salads, sandwiches and soups for takeaway, but is also now doing home deliveries after losing its corporate catering revenue stream which made up half of its turnover.
“We have never done home deliveries before, but it meant that we could use our vans and serve the community,” owner Val Berry tells FFD. “It’s entirely different because we’re used to delivering 50 lunches to one address, whereas now we might have five drops on one run and then get back to the deli and have another five drops ready to go.”
Minskip Farm Shop, near York, was a week away from opening its newly built café when the country went into lockdown.
“We had built a café and hired all the staff ready to work in it,” says co-owner Emma Mosey. “It was quite terrifying because we’d done our cash flows, but obviously we needed our café income to make sure we didn’t go out of business.”
Moving swiftly, the farm shop launched a home delivery service and moved the newly hired kitchen and café staff into new roles. The farm shop’s new head chef is now its head delivery driver, delivering bread, milk, and fruit & veg boxes to customers within a 6-mile radius or to the nearest town of Harrogate.
Mosey estimates they’re now making between 80 and 100 deliveries a day (with 50% of orders coming from new customers).
“The deliveries have been successful enough that we’ve managed to replace the income lost,” she says. “Plus, the shop is busier so, at the moment, everything is fine with what we’re expending.”
Blacker Hall Farm Shop redeployed its 30-strong café team to other areas of the business including the shop, home deliveries, Click & Collect, and its new drive-thru (where customers order basic selection boxes of meat, veg, fruit, and dairy products from their cars).
“There’s nobody we have furloughed out,” says head of buying and value, Karen Close. “We might have 100 veg boxes, 100 fruit boxes and 100 meat boxes that need to be packed for deliveries and collections. We need staff to do that.”
Scotts of Alnmouth, in Northumberland, has also started doing home deliveries and drive-by collections, but it is its homemade ready-meals that are doing the business.
Prepared by owner Andrew Scott, the take-home meals stemmed from dinner events that the deli has hosted over the last three years. Scott has already made Tuscan ragu, lasagne, cottage pie and sticky toffee pudding, as well as a chicken ruby and black bean dhal inspired by a Dishoom-themed event last year.
The deli sold around 120 meals in the first two weeks and interest continues to grow. A woman living in Australia ordered meals for her 12 family members in the area in time for the Easter weekend.
“People are getting bored with cooking, and rather than being able to go to a restaurant, they’ll bring the restaurant to them.”
While the meals haven’t replenished the lost income from the café, they have given Scott food for thought about continuing the ready-meals beyond the crisis.
“It has been obvious that people have appreciated them,” he says. “We have talked about doing our own-branded stuff, so maybe we’ll go into own-branding these meals and selling them from frozen.”
“I don’t think I’ll open our café very quickly when this is over, though,” he adds. “We don’t know culturally how people will change after this.”