Amid unprecedented times, there has perhaps never been more opportunity in the UK delivery market for operators, new or old. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the delivery game was booming, with our colleagues at MCA reporting the market was worth £8.4bn in 2019, up 18% year-on-year, with consumers consuming 849 million delivered meals last year.
Participation (+4%), frequency (+9%) and average spend (+6%) are all increasing year-on-year, with the entry of fast-food chains such as McDonald’s, KFC and Burger King cited as a key factor in driving delivery market growth.
According to MCA, 50% of consumers’ main motivation for foodservice delivery is for a treat. But should a delivery ‘treat’ be reserved for the realms of pizzas and curries?
Not if Philip Britten has his way. The former Michelin-starred chef launched his ‘fine dining’ delivery concept, Cookout Club, at the tail end of February, with Britten telling Food Spark that while his new venture is the only one in the UK of its kind at present, he expects others to take interest in the concept if he’s successful.
So, what’s on the menu? How has Britten translated a restaurant operation into delivery? And what are some of the challenges of running high-end out of a virtual kitchen?
Britten, who held Michelin stars at Chez Nico and London’s Capital Hotel over 20 years ago, prefers to call Cookout Club a ‘virtual restaurant’ rather than a virtual kitchen.
“Kitchen-wise, we run it like it’s a restaurant,” he says. “We have a pass which is where we put all the food on to be taken away. Where in a restaurant you have starters, mains and desserts, all sent out separately, we have to send it all out at the same time.
“A party of five could have 25 dishes and they all have to go at the same time. It’s full on, but a lot of fun. I have a brigade of five, all of whom have worked in some great restaurants. Its new to all of us but everyone seems to like it.”
Billed as a Deliveroo alternative, Cookout Club offers value for quality on their modern European menu (with particular focus on healthy options), with a baked fillet of seabass on Puy lentils and leeks, and glazed Barbary duck with red wine sauce, red cabbage and glazed onions two of seven mains – all of which come under the £10 bracket.
“There are other people doing high end takeaway food, but this is delivery,” says Britten. “And the consumer will pay a better price – it’s not restaurant prices. This is possible, partly, because we don’t have the overheads. If you have a restaurant, you have to pay the rents, the rates, for the design, the front of house – which for us is the website.
“We think we know what delivery consumers want and that is quality, consistency, flavoursome products that are seen to be healthy. The research we’ve done has suggested that delivery consumers, your typical 27/28-year-old, order food because they’re hungry and they don’t know what the ingredients are.
“But they want something that’s healthy, robust and tasty. And, today, they want to know what they’re eating.”
Cookout Club currently use Stuart, an independent delivery fleet for hire, to send their dishes (in biodegradable packaging) across South London. But Britten says expansion is inevitable.
He’s also gearing up for a menu change soon, with some higher-end restaurant staples just not possible in the delivery arena.
“We want to go a little more modern to align with what 25-year-olds to 40-year-olds would expect to see in a restaurant,” continues Britten. “But we’re certainly not trying to compete with restaurants.
“Being a delivery operation, we can’t do a soufflé, obviously, and we can’t be as intricate as high end restaurants can be. But we don’t profess to be a high-end restaurant. We just want to deliver fresh, tasty food, with clear provenance. And looks pretty, without it being full of foam and drizzles of this and that.”
With this the UK’s first virtual restaurant run by a chef of Britten’s pedigree, could Cookout Club one day become the first delivery operation to gain something like a Michelin star?
“I’m not interested,” laughs Britten. “I’ve been very fortunate over the years to have had good experiences in restaurants, but I don’t have anything to prove anymore so I’m very happy to oversee a kitchen now without looking for accolades.
“But, in theory, a Michelin-starred virtual kitchen could happen.”