Some operators in England are reporting a drop-off in sales of their ‘at home' delivery and meal kit offerings following the reopening of outdoor hospitality last week.
For some businesses, new offerings such as delivery, takeaway, meal kits and hampers have proven a vital lifeline during lockdowns. Despite the sector being permitted to reopen outside spaces from 12 April, for some venues this has not been viable and as many as three-quarters of sites remain closed and will not be able to reopen until 17 May at the earliest.
Luke Garnsworthy, who owns Crockers Henley in Oxfordshire and Crockers Tring in Hertfordshire, has only been able to reopen the Henley site and has stopped the Crockers ‘Finish at Home' service (pictured above).
He told The Caterer: "We've seen a steady decline for the last few weeks. We peaked at around Mother's Day and then it slowly dropped off. Last week was our last week doing it, because it isn't really worth it – it isn't viable anymore."
Garnsworthy remained optimistic, however, with outdoor bookings looking busy at Crockers Henley for the rest of the month and weekends at Crockers Tring fully booked from when it reopens until October.
"We'll just focus on opening. We've got lots of reservations, it's really busy, and we're looking forward to it," he said. "Fingers crossed it all sticks to the schedule and we'll be open in a few weeks."
Heritage restaurant in West Sussex has been sending out caddies of food and drink through its new Parlour brand, but sales dropped from an average of 60 a week to just 20 last week despite the restaurant refocusing its offering towards barbecues and picnics.
"It's been a little bit of a surprise at just how much it's dropped off and a bit of a concern, because we just don't have the luxury to reopen in any sort of capacity before we can welcome our guests back inside the restaurant," said general manager Hannah Bamford.
"We've still got a couple of weeks to get through before we can really consider not having Parlour as an option if it's going that way. We were hoping to continue it even after the restaurant reopened as it's been so popular."
If sales continue at this level, Bamford said the three chefs who were putting together the caddies will have to go back onto furlough.
She added: "Perhaps we'll see a pick-up again in a couple of weeks' time once that novelty of getting back out to the pub has worn off a little."
Charles Harris, founder of Libertine Burger, which has two sites in the Midlands set to reopen next month, has been doing DIY kits during lockdown.
"We've definitely seen a decrease in sales, but I think that was to be expected. We were doing about 600 kits a week and last week we did 150, so it's been quite a big drop," he said. However, spend per head has increased from £32 in March to £38.50 so far this month as friends and family have been able to meet in groups outdoors again.
He confirmed that 150 was still viable for the business and that he was looking to continue the service after reopening and remains confident in the future of meal kits: "I think it's something that people are going to keep looking for now."
In the meantime, he is looking for a third site for the group in the Birmingham area.
Not all operators have seen a drop-off. Rudie's Jerk Shack, which has six sites in London, discontinued its jerk chicken wrap meal kit once the roadmap was announced in anticipation of a sales decline once restaurants started to reopen but remained open for delivery and takeaway.
"Surprisingly we saw a 40% increase in deliveries in one site and no drop in another two last week," said chief executive and co-founder Matin Miah.
However, social distancing restrictions have inevitably impacted site capacity and footfall in venues where the group operates outdoors, and Miah said that in some cases, year on year sales were 30%-40% down.
Afghan smoked barbecue concept Cue Point, meanwhile, has been doing delivery boxes over the past year and last week opened a new drive-through service at Chiswick Pavilion in London, where it's also hosting a residency serving guests outdoors.
Director Mursal Saiq said she was expecting to send out 100-120 boxes this week when a quiet week would be 80, which has potentially been driven by the brand's launch of Ramadan sharing boxes. About 65% of the group's orders are from outside of London and around 25% are corporate orders.
"The nationwide customers have been our bread and our butter and the demand for that is not getting less," she said, "It's not stopped at all. We just need some more staff."
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