When the lockdown happened at the end of March, operators had to take quick decisions. Furlough all staff? Try delivery? Donate to NHS? All of the above or none. Three SRA members, Andrei Lussmann of Lussmanns Sustainable Fish& Grill, Richard Bell of The Three Stags and Ollie Hunter of The Wheatsheaf Chilton Foliat, share their experiences of delivery, donation and their plans for the future.

What service the business offered immediately post lockdown?

Lussmanns: Launched its own independent delivery service within 30 hours and in week one handled 97 orders, delivering ready made meals (menu favourites) and quality groceries. “I had to do it to ensure I didn’t have to make all my staff redundant and to keep the light on so people knew we were still making food. It provides people with a little bit of a treat at the weekend and a little taste of Lussmanns at home. ”

The Three Stags: Did pizza deliveries using three pizza chefs and Deliveroo

The Wheatsheaf: Started with a click and collect and delivery model with veg boxes and meals, Weds-Sat.

Ollie Hunter: “I felt a real responsibility to my customers and suppliers to keep going. People see us as doing something positive for them. It’s a luxury they want to hold onto.”

Main challenges

Andrei Lussmann: “I am more tired than I was certainly as it was like a brand new opening, just after we had completed an actual opening. This is all about systems and getting them right. All the time we have to be thinking about communication (They leaflet the properties either side of the one they deliver too and use e-shot their mailing list every week), packaging and pricing. Instead of competing with just other restaurants, we’re now up against the supermarkets.

Identifying dishes that are suitable for this model recognising that some aren’t suitable for home cooks and kitchens.

“Also, in the restaurant, if the food is not 100%, there’s always the front of house staff to make up for that. We don’t have that opportunity with this model.”

Three Stags:

Richard Bell: After two weeks, I thought ‘what am I doing?’. We were doing really good business but apart from the crazy workload there was the lunacy of my chefs coming in on the Tube as well as the fact I’ve had a triple heart bypass. We also tried doing delivery ourselves for one night – it was a nightmare – never again.”

When the pizza delivery business was flourishing in the first weeks of lockdown, Richard ordered a lot of charcuterie and he’s now looking to sell this. Do contact [email protected] if you might be interested.

How the service you provide has developed?

Lussmanns: Grown to click and collect at five sites and last week sold 3,300 items in 433 orders with turnover of £20,000, about 15% of normal business. Now selling a wider range of groceries from fish to wine, baked goods and veg boxes.

The Three Stags: Now pivoted to a ‘free’ model. Have been cooking meals for local vulnerable using existing stock. And have gifted 80 sourdough starters and beer to locals.

Richard Bell: “It’s been really good engagement with the community. I am now far more engaged with the neighbourhood than I ever have been. The profile of the pub is much higher than it was when we were open with people posting photos of their sourdough loaves on Instagram and give us loads of really good feedback.”

The Wheatsheaf: The veg boxes and meal sales are bringing in £2,000 a week which is about 20% of normal.

Ollie Hunter: “I’ve stopped doing delivery and reduced down to Thursday-Saturday as I can serve the same amount of customers in fewer days. I also worked out that if this is going to continue for a few months yet I had to work out what was viable for me to do and what I wanted. So now people click and collect with a given time slot.

How do you imagine what you’re doing will change?

Andrei: “We’ve had fantastic customer feedback, people have really appreciated it and had almost no complaints. But I know that honeymoon period won’t last. People get bored and want variety. So we’re constantly having to re-think the offering.

“At the moment we have to work on the basis that this is all we have. If I can pay the mortgage and employ my staff then I have to keep making delivery the best I can and deliver consistently.

Will you continue what you’re doing now when you re-open?

Andrei: “If the prediction that restaurants won’t open til the end of the year comes to pass then we have to make Lussmanns To Go a viable option.”

How many of your employees are still working?

Lussmanns: Ten

The Wheatsheaf: Just Ollie

The Three Stags: Just Richard

What’s this experience taught you?

Ollie Hunter: “I’ve learned that our customers still want good food, they want to support us and they want to support the industry more widely.

“I’ve also learned what I can cook in a wood-fired pizza oven. It’s made me re-look at the whole menu and consider how I cook everything and the opportunities for simplifying the kitchen.

“I looked at my wine list and realised that people only order three of the 31 on there. So, I’ll definitely reduce the size of the wine list.”

Richard Bell: “While we’ve been closed I’ve had a chance to review the whole pub and the menu in particular. When we re-open it’s going to be smaller, better and more veg-based. We’ll open up doing takeaway, trial the new menu giving them away for free.”

Top tips:

Andrei:

  1. Know your numbers and know where you are debtwise
  2. Review, review, review
  3. Consistency of your brand more important than you were as a restaurant. No one to provide great service which can overcome poor food
  4. Resolve to keep picking yourself up

Ollie:

  1. Take this opportunity to re-evaluate the business
  2. Strip the business down to its core and then add on
  3. Focus on the ingredients