Is foodservice finding a way to work in this crisis?

Some foodservice businesses have started to reopen a handful of outlets, offering takeaway services and in some cases free meals to NHS workers.

Many popular high street chains had planned to keep operations open for takeaways and deliveries but concerns over staff safety forced most to close their doors.

That was three weeks ago. Some have used the time to reflect on how to adapt their businesses to the current situation – whilst, critically, keeping workers safe. Even a small number of openings mean the brands maintain a presence and reassure their customers they haven’t disappeared forever.

Pret is this week reopening 10 shops located close to hospitals in London. Some 160 staff have volunteered to run them, said CEO Pano Christou in a message published on the chain’s website. The shop will be for takeaway and delivery only. The range has been reduced but essentials like bread and milk have been added. NHS workers will also receive a 50% discount.

KFC are also reopening 11 stores across the country for delivery only. There will be a limited menu, which will allow for a smaller kitchen team better able to maintain social distancing. Thousands of meals had been donated to NHS and key workers, the company said.

Deliveroo meanwhile has reportedly raised more than £1.5m from customer and corporate donations, which will be used to provide free meals for NHS workers.

Both Deliveroo and Just Eat claim they have signed up an additional 3,000 takeaways. It is not clear how many they have lost, though. Deliveroo has also started delivering food from the likes of Morrisons and M&S and BP service stations.

After an initial fall in demand for meal deliveries as the UK went into temporary lockdown, there are signs that demand is beginning to pick up. People are said to be ordering earlier in the day and earlier in the week. Some are looking for treats, others are keen to support local businesses; and some may well just be getting bored with cooking three times a day.

This is good news for the foodservice sector, but perhaps not for the nation’s waistline, as some health campaigners have begun to suggest.

The news was less positive for Britain’s managed pub, restaurant and bar sector: collective like-for-like sales dropped 57.6% in March as the country moved into lockdown, according to the Coffer Peach Business Tracker.

“With shutdown wiping out April sales, apart from a small amount of delivery income, and May likely to be the same, the devastating effect on the market is self-evident,” said Karl Chessell, director of CGA, which produces the figures.

Delivery accounted for 7.4% of sales among the casual dining groups in the Tracker cohort, up from 5.5% in January. However, the picture is “patchy”, said Chessell. “As well as more companies establishing delivery options, there are also a number of major players that have closed down their delivery businesses altogether for safety reasons.”

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