On Monday 16 March, everything changed. Prime minister Boris Johnson announced that the public should stay clear of restaurants, pubs, bars and all other facets of the thriving hospitality industry due to the coronavirus outbreak, plunging the country into chaos.
Days later, a closure order was issued to the industry bar those able to operate a food delivery/takeaway service, with businesses big and small forced to adapt like never before.
So much has changed in the last two weeks. And, as uncertainty reigns, Food Spark has analysed the practically unrecognisable eating out scene, highlighting key examples of adaptation across the main sectors, dishes of notable difference and the potential (if limited) avenues of opportunity for an industry reeling in the face of the ongoing pandemic.
The mini-supermarket model
Over the last week, we have seen several of the UK’s most recognisable high-street chain brands shutting their doors indefinitely, with the likes of McDonalds, Pret and Greggs all entering a state of hibernation.
With the UK already largely in panic mode when it comes to purchasing food, the closing of so many well-known and regular haunts could see supermarket pressure increase to new levels.
“With major fast food and sandwich chains like McDonald’s, Gregg’s, Pret and Burger King now closing, local operators who are able to keep their kitchens open for delivery could play a vital role in taking the strain off supermarkets,” said Peter Martin, vice president of CGA.
Leon are one of the innovators in this space, with the healthy fast food chain transforming it’s 57 sites into mini-supermarkets and takeaway/delivery operations, with their debut e-commerce site for delivery launching today.
“We are trying to lead a rescue of the foodservice industry, which is currently collapsing, through a new e-commerce platform,” the brand said on Twitter this week, while also outlining plans to serve NHS staff at a 50% discount.
“We are of course not expecting this to be an ongoing business model. We are in short-term crisis mode and are extremely appreciative of everyone who has offered to help so far.”
LEON Wimbledon's mini-supermarket has launched! As supermarkets struggle to cope with demand, @leonrestaurants have turned their Wimbledon restaurant into a mini-supermarket, selling groceries like eggs, bread, milk, toilet paper, teabags and more!— lovewimbledon (@lovewimbledon) March 24, 2020
Repost and #SupportLocal pic.twitter.com/B7F3p0xWNA
Leon, who have adopted the new slogan ‘No longer just a restaurant’, are now selling grocery essentials such as milk, bread, eggs and toilet paper, while they also have a dedicated ‘store cupboard’ section that includes organic oats, turmeric honey and Italian wholegrain rice.
Refrigerated, chef-prepared ready meals in plastic pouches, meats and sauces are also on the new Leon ‘menu’.
Community is the buzzword with Leon here, with the brand attempting to juggle taking limited sales through an unprecedented direction with doing their bit to alleviate the pressure on supermarkets, the country’s key workers and their suppliers (groceries and ready meals will be supplied by two of their main suppliers).
A similar, albeit smaller scale, model has been recently adopted by Adam Byatt’s Bistro Union in Clapham, which has become a community shop offering freshly cooked meals, handmade pasta, dried goods, essentials and wine.
Brat, the popular Basque-influenced Shoreditch restaurant, has transformed into a farm, grill and wine shop, with whole Cornish crab, grilled asparagus salad, smoked potatoes and wood fired anchovy breads among options on their regularly changing takeaway menu.
José Pizarro in Bermondsey has also turned into a grocery shop and takeaway.
Meanwhile, a plethora of restaurants are making drastic adaptations towards solely delivery/takeaway only models – including significant menu changes – as keeping the wider eating out community breathing becomes of critical concern.
Rebranding and menu mayhem
A survey conducted this month by CGA revealed that over half (53%) of the public are either currently using, or are planning to use, delivery as an alternative during the current crisis, with 13% getting delivery from a restaurant or takeaway for the first time, or more often than usual, in the two weeks prior to the survey (18 March).
Earlier this month, chef Philip Britten launched his virtual kitchen concept Cookout Club which offers high-end food delivery across south London.
While now as on-trend an operation as you can get, considering the worsening circumstances, Britten’s previously planned menu changes, decided before the strict government measures, will now not be as straightforward.
“There’re massive concerns about what’s coming in in terms of stock, especially from abroad,” says Britten.
“It’s all up in the air and no-one really knows what’s going to happen. It’s ludicrous out there right now. I went to the supermarket recently to find wonton leaves and grape seed oil, and even those had been sold out. It’s astonishing.”
Menu alterations are inevitable with such widespread crisis, with several restaurants making notable changes.
Ollie Dabbous’ Hide is one high-profile example. Rebranding to Hide at Home, the fine dining destination has gone 100% home delivery, operating on the app Supper, and have stripped their menu back to include only their most popular dishes that travel well.
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We have launched HIDE at Home delivery service! Now you can get our most popular dishes brought to your door step. From the famous breakfast viennoiseries to Ollie’s signature mains and @hedonism_wines full range is available to order too. Order over the phone or email email@example.com and by clicking “Reserve” button in our profile for takeaway and deliveries within 10 km radius, you can also find us on @supperlondon app for deliveries within 2.5 miles Stay safe, HIDE at home #stayathome #hospitality #supportlocal #chef #foodie #london #foodstagram #takeaway #food #eater #olliedabbous #finedining #hedonismwines #hidelondon #vegan #vegetarian
Pigin in Hackney, meanwhile, have re-emerged as Homing Pigin, and offer a three-course delivery option (either meat or veggie orientated) that changes on a weekly basis.
Dishes available from Pigin this week include a cold smoked mackerel starter with charred asparagus, napa cabbage, treviso, yuzu kosho buttermilk dressing, black lime and sunflower seed togarashi; and crispy fried pork pave with a Thai style waldorf salad, tom yum emulsion and potato gratin.
Hackney spot Peg has transformed into Peg Pick-Me-Up, with takeaway dishes including cabbage and sesame salads, tempura chickpea tofu and mushroom XO, fried chicken with pepper and lime and pumpkin and winter tomato yellow curries with brown rice.
Bao, following the closure of their existing sites, are launching their own home delivery service named Rice Error.
Four different flavours of chi shiang rice box – prawn, grilled beef, mushroom and chilli chicken leg – will soon be available on their new site, along with Bao’s famous Taiwanese fried chicken by the bucket and fried tofu.
With the supply chain entering a period of turmoil (as we’ll discuss in an upcoming special), significant menu changes essential due to the scaling needed to become a takeaway operation and previously unseen formats adopted across the board, it’s clear that innovation could even mean survival for an industry in the firing line.