Tips for starting your delivery or takeaway

How can operators get this right as customer demand, needs and expectations are evolving?

Pubs and bars may be shut for the duration of lockdown, but the twin lifelines of delivery and takeaway offer a chance to keep customers spending money and venues open, albeit in a considerably reduced way.

Many pubs and bars were already getting into delivery and takeaway long before the first lockdown and plenty of others embraced it during the first lockdown back in March. For many this is a new challenge, but one that brings fresh opportunities. So how can operators get this right for their customers?

We spoke to Kevin Abbott, co-owner of The Anchor in Wingham, about how lockdown 1 and 2 has affected this business in different ways, as well as how he's adapted to changing customer demands and opportunities.

Thinking takeaway?

Definitely the easiest of the 2 to start with no real major changes other than menu choices and packaging.

If you decide to offer food and drink as takeaway options, then it will be the customers who are in charge of getting things back to their own home. Having your customers arrive to your doorstep and interact with the pub itself, albeit in a peculiar kind of way, could be an incredibly important way to retain the community connectivity that is the lifeblood of pubs and bars.

If it’s possible for pubs to offer a drive-thru option this could be a useful differential to other takeaway options, allowing people to get their food without having to enter any premises and expose themselves to other, potentially infectious, customers. Operators have worked incredibly hard to make sure that their venues are Covid-compliant, so continuing this good work and informing customers about this through app sign-ups and track trace will make them feel safer.

Going delivery?

Should operators choose to handle the actual delivery of their food and drink themselves, they can also continue to connect with their customers face to face, showing up on people’s doorstep with fantastic meals straight from the kitchen. However, they will need to ensure that they are taking the correct steps to look after the food en-route.

“We’re using proper fish and chip boxes,” says Abbott in Wingham. “They are ventilated to keep the fish crispy and the food hot. We also use a ‘hot bag’ which is a big, foil-lined bag. We use some of the foil containers that you get in Indian takeaways for the steak and ale pies. They retain heat really well. We then put the gravy in a separate one and put the vegetables into a plastic container that’s microwaveable. That way, you can give it a blast in the microwave if it’s not hot enough. The chefs know whether it’s delivery or takeaway so can time things appropriately. We also try to just deliver three or four drops at a time in a certain area so the food isn’t sitting in a bag for 45 minutes.”

There are also companies that have dedicated themselves to delivering food for a long time. And so, if operators were thinking of taking this delivery and takeaway trend more seriously – and it was a growing phenomenon even before the first lockdown – then it might be worth considering a partnership with Deliveroo, Uber Eats, Just Eat or another platform. There are costs to consider, given that a percentage of the takings will be taken by the delivery company, but the added exposure on their websites and the eliminated hassle of arranging your own delivery could make it a worthwhile investment.

Regardless of whether you opt for delivery or takeaway, it is important not to lose sight of other important initiatives like sustainability. Covid has brought back habits of throwing things away after one use, but if, like Britvic, you are using recyclable packaging, then this will reduce the environmental impact of your delivery services.

So, what's next?

We've got 5 top tips to remember when you are start your new takeaway and/or delivery service

In the kitchen: Choosing your menu

Whatever wonders your kitchen produces, when it comes to takeaway and delivery, that dish doesn’t just have to travel to another room, it has to travel to another address, maybe even another postcode. Presentation is important, whether it’s the pouring of a perfect cocktail or the layout of a perfect meal. Meals that will deteriorate over a long journey should be discounted from a takeaway menu. Ultimately, it’s the standard favourites – fish and chips, pizza, burgers, etc. – that continue to win the day.

You have the potential to be serving more people that would ordinarily be able to fit into your own establishment, so consider your storage and preparation options when building a menu. At times like these, when margins will be even tighter, reducing wastage remains critical.

It’s also important to remember that times are tough for a lot of people, so operators shouldn’t be expecting to cover their Christmas costs through delivery. The takeaway and delivery services should be seen as a way for your venues to support your communities and also as a way for your communities to support your businesses. Keep your prices reasonable and you will keep your connections strong.

“It’s about keeping our social contract and the noise going so people can keep us in their minds,” adds Tim Foster, director of Yummy Pubs. “We’re concentrating on protecting margins this year, and we’ll run like crazy next year.”

Create and add new treats to your menu

This second lockdown sees the days get shorter and colder. Having something special up your sleeve could give people a treat to lighten the gloom. Whether it’s a special dessert or a pre-made cocktail, your takeaway menu can provide some real highlights to lockdown that customers won’t forget.

For customers looking for that dining out experience during this second lockdown, it might be too much of a challenge to send a fully prepared bouillabaisse and expect it to be still perfect on arrival. But another option is to follow the Gusto approach – vac-packing preprepared ingredients for a three-course feast and then sending them out with simple instructions, bringing high quality dining into people’s homes.

“In the first lockdown, no one knew what to expect, people just couldn’t get food. We sold lots of eggs in the first lockdown. Coming out of it, it was all three-course meals and people wanting that dining out experience. Now, people aren’t panicking like they were before. Everyone has adapted – from suppliers to retailers – and now it’s all about offering that element of treat and elevating the experience. We’re doing game crumble, beef flank with bone marrow mash – real specials that you chuck in the oven for 30 minutes. Buy it from us and you know it’s fresh.”

Go digital to get the word out

Given that people won’t be entering pubs and bars – in fact, many won’t even be leaving their homes – the promotion of your delivery and takeaway offers needs to take to the internet. Your website should make it abundantly clear what is available to customers and how they can get their hands on it.

But it is also important not to overdo things on the promotional side of things. Don’t approach it like you would approach your normal Christmas promotions because the returns simply aren’t going to be in the same league and people will eventually get bored of the message. Instead, focus on showcasing the food and keeping your connection to your communities strong.

“Don’t oversell it,” recommends Foster. “Use subtle sales comms, not the heavy sales pitch or people will get sick of it. That was our biggest learning. The value of social has been huge. But it’s a way to keep in touch with customers for when we reopen not a sales driver.”

Safety is paramount (and the key to success)

It would be an understatement to say that these days people are concerned about health and safety. Even before Covid-19, the option for operators to be clear about the allergens in their meals had become a necessity. Now, with a very contagious respiratory disease to contend with, it is even more essential that kitchens maintain the highest standards of cleanliness.

Wiping down surfaces, washing hands, social distancing, covering faces – the industry has already shown during months between the two lockdowns that it takes the health of its staff and customers extremely seriously. Continuing to do so (and continuing to reassure customers that these steps are being taken) should be hard-wired into every team member at every establishment.

Additionally, attention to allergens should not be allowed to dip or waiver. Just because they’re not front-page news at the moment, allergies to gluten, lactose, nuts, sulphites, etc. have not gone away. The same applies to sustainable practices in the kitchen and bar – a focus on recyclables and reducing waste should be remain a high priority.

Licenses and government guidance

Before the first lockdown was announced, it required licensees to arrange for off-sales licences for takeaway food and alcohol. Handily for licensees, the government has stepped in to jump through the licensing hoops for your business already, so all people had to do was fill in a form back in May which would cover them for the year. Everything on that side appears to have been taken care of, indeed that registration looks likely to be extended by the government into November 2021.

The government even announced at the last minute that the new delivery and takeaway rules would also extend to drinks, allowing pubs and bars to attract more custom, provide customers with greater choice and also sell perishable stock.

Another considerable upside to this lockdown compared to the first is the change to restrictions on furlough. The new part-time furlough allows pubs to keep more of their staff working on a part-time, rotational basis without having to worry about them losing wages for the rest of the week. This will not only allow for a more sustainable business, but also allows for the building of proper menus and longer-term strategies.

“I can get all three of my chefs involved now,” says Abbott. “So, they’re not sitting at home twiddling their thumbs. They’ve all said they’d much rather come out to work and have that purpose.”

This second lockdown is going to be another major struggle for the hospitality industry to overcome. But by focusing on quality, consistency and sustainability, operators can offer something for people to look forward to in these dark days, can keep their businesses afloat and strengthen their community connections for when the lockdown eases.

We are working on Sensational Drinks exclusive offers for both Delivery and outlet re-opening, so please keep an eye out over the next couple of weeks.