Posted: 11/06/2020

Turning tables: Indie retailers assess reopening their cafés

As the lockdown eases and more businesses increase their opening hours, FFD has spoken to two independent retailers with differing approaches to relaunching their foodservice operations.

Indie retailers assess reopening cafés
Papadeli will not be reopening its café due to social distancing concerns

Staying closed

Bristol’s Papadeli shifted to an online-only business during the strictest period of lockdown, only reopening on June 2nd.

But, while customers have been happy to see its doors reopen, one side of the business has had to remain closed and will do for the foreseeable future, said co-owner, Simon MacDonnell.

Simon MacDonnell

“Before, we had about a three-way split,” MacDonnell told FFD. “People coming into the shop were one third, people coming in to use the café another and then people using us as a lunchtime destination was the final third.

“Two of those thirds have disappeared, we can’t open the café and the lunch trade seems to have disappeared entirely.”

For shops like Papadeli, that incorporate foodservice and retail offerings within a relatively small area – around 800 square feet in Papadeli’s case – maintaining social distancing while operating both sides of its business will be difficult if not impossible. 

“Reopening the café isn’t even on our radar at the moment,” said MacDonnell, “as the floor space wouldn’t allow it.”

“I don’t think we could have a café and a shop at the same time and still allow people to socially distance, so it would have to be the shop that we kept going.”

Papadeli has kept its kitchen busy, though, by creating ‘picnic orders’ and producing frozen meals for collection or delivery for those self-isolating. “That is something that we are going to think about continuing going forward as it’s been pretty successful.”

Opening up

Yorkshire-based Minskip Farm Shop had its new café fully staffed and ready to open at the start of April, but, due to lockdown, put the opening on hold.

“We had our head chef and all other staff members ready to go, so to start with we put them to work on deliveries to try and keep everyone in their jobs – our head chef became our head delivery driver,” said co-owner Emma Mosey. “Since then we’ve started doing two takeaway nights a week, so the kitchen is being used for that now.”

Emma Mosey

Now, with restrictions set to be loosened around foodservice and hospitality businesses, Mosey hopes to be able to open the café soon and is working on how to operate while maintaining social distancing and keeping staff and customers safe. 

“We’re going to space the tables out more and try to reduce contact time with staff so we’re thinking about using technology to take orders and payment,” she said. “We’re doing all our takeaways with an online pre-book and pay system so we’re thinking about doing a similar thing for the café.”

The York farm shop is also bringing forward a future plan to create an outdoor seating area for the café to allow for more space and a safer eating environment.

With mainland Europe already seeing a relaxation of COVID restrictions it is giving an opportunity to see what measures are being taken and how they are working before the same occurs in Britain. 

“We’ve done some research into what other countries – like Germany and Italy who have already reopened – are doing in terms of table distancing, and it looks like somewhere between 1 and 1.5 metres is what people are saying is a safe distance. 

“For us it depends on what the government says in terms of guidelines,” said the co-owner.

Most important for Mosey, though, is customer and staff confidence that dining out is safe.

“We did a survey of people’s feelings about eating in cafes when lockdown started, and we got varied responses. But I think that if we did that again now, we would get a very different response as people were far more anxious at that point.

“We’ve already got a good reputation in terms of safety over the last few months in the shop, so I think people will feel safe as long as we do the things we’re supposed to be doing.”

Read the latest issue of Fine Food Digest here

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