Recent events have got me thinking about what the recovery in our sector will look like when this is all over. Optimistically we might like to think that everyone will return to pubs and restaurants in their droves and things will carry on the same as before, but I fear that social distancing will leave a more lasting scar on the general public.
I’ve been worrying that people may not be happy to sit in restaurants and pubs in close proximity to strangers. At least not initially, and if that is the case then we may all be having to take on all the costs again (staff, rents and utilities etc) but without the sales to pay for them.
A few years ago food delivery was the terrible demon that took too much commission, cannibalised in-restaurant sales and belittled the eating experience. Whilst some of that is not completely unfounded it has taken the current crisis for many to see the opportunity that delivery can present.
It is clear that the new normal for restaurants, whatever that might be, is definitely going to be more reliant on delivery than before. In fact, it may prove a vital way of attracting new customers and maintaining a relationship with your existing customers whilst people find their new comfort zone.
I totally understand why many operators have closed off their delivery arm during this early phase of the coronavirus outbreak, particularly where there is a risk to the health of the staff. However, we have to remember that for many customers food delivery is an essential service, particularly when you consider that in one survey by American home improvement site Porch, millennials self rated their cooking ability as worse than that of previous generations. Now, yes, I know there are exceptions but the reason that people are cooking less often is because they have been able to take advantage of the choice available on our high streets and more recently through the convenience of food delivery apps. Customers would love to have that choice back again as soon as possible, so we have to find ways to bring that to them when it is safe to do so.
If you are thinking about launching delivery for the first time then now is the time to build a plan. I am a firm believer in building brands for the future and delivery should be seen as another extension of your brand. Your delivery food should be made up from the dishes that your customers expect to see. That way, if new customers try your food for the first time it should make them want to visit your venue at some point in the future to enjoy the full experience.
Now that the lockdown in the UK is expected to continue until June and social distancing measures predicted to last until October delivery may be the only way to stay connected to your customers and create some cash flow over the next few months.
With that in mind, now is the time to start to think about:
How can you bring your brand back to life through delivery safely? (how many staff do you need to cook your menu, how can you make your in house process safe for staff and drivers?)
When is the right time for you to launch?
Which are the best locations to open up for delivery first? (Existing restaurants, dark kitchens, city centre or suburban locations)
Can you engineer your menu to be more delivery friendly?
Do you have all the assets ready (dish photography, packaging etc) to take advantage quickly?
How can you build a relationship with your delivery aggregators to ensure you take advantage of any marketing?
Have you built a marketing plan to start telling your customers through your own channels that you will be available on the delivery apps?
And finally, but most importantly, can you do all this profitably?
Andre Johnstone ran the delivery business at wagamama and now runs food delivery consultancy www.deliveryinsider.com