Covid-19 & Dark Kitchens: Adapting to Food Delivery Service

On March 16th 2020, the announcement came that UK residents should avoid all restaurants, bars and pubs, and not before long, hospitality establishments across the country were forcibly closed as we entered a mandatory lockdown. 

The last few months have been the most testing that many of us have faced in our lifetime. Among many other sectors, the food industry has been forced to revolutionise its operations and transform its services to adapt to the hurdles caused by covid-19. 

Lockdown is beginning to ease, but our new “normal” is far from what we know. From tweaking your takeaway, cubby hole collections and delivering DIY meal kits, it’s not too late to find your niche and watch your food or drink business flourish in the current climate.

If you have never operated in the delivery market before, you might feel a bit out of your depth, so here’s how you can meet the needs of a thriving food delivery service.

Reinvent Your Menu; What Do Your Customers Want?

Having a delivery menu isn’t about offering a never-ending list of dishes to your potential customers. Your choice of meals should be condensed, streamlined and finalised on a ‘quality over quantity’ basis. 

Take a look back and what dishes used to sell well prior to lockdown, and choose the most popular ten – or so – to operate as part of your food delivery. But remember, not all food will work well in a takeaway circumstance. Consider preparation times, the number of ingredients required, how well the food will withhold temperature during the delivery process and the containers that the meal can and will be served in.

Remember – we like our takeaways fast and hot! 

Does Your Kitchen Space Cut the Mustard?

If you have reinvented your business as a food delivery only operation, your current premise may be too big, or featuring a storefront that is now redundant, and therefore costing you far more in overheads than what is necessary. On the flip side, the lockdown has been a time of business expansion and your delivery has taken off, you might be stuck in a commercial kitchen that is actually too small. 

Dark kitchens, also known as cloud, virtual, satellite and ghost kitchens, are professional delivery kitchens that have reinvented how businesses manage the rise in demand of the food delivery market. 

The purpose-built spaces are used for preparing food ready for delivery, and they don’t have a collection or seating areas for customers, and they are a convenient, adaptable and cost-effective way for eateries to run as a delivery-only food business. 

Choose an Ordering and Delivery Platform

Other big decisions you will be left to make when switching to takeaway or food delivery service are; “how are my customers going to place orders?” and “how will I deliver my food to my customers door?”. 

Will you operate everything in-house, or are you going to use popular food ordering and delivery apps such as Deliveroo, Uber Eats and JustEat? Both options have their benefits, but whether you choose to deliver yourself or outsource to delivery companies depends on what is the most convenient or financially savvy for your business.

Using a delivery app will put your brand in front of customers that might not have otherwise discovered your menu, but are their margins manageable?

Reel in Customers

The takeaway market is fierce. With hundreds of offerings just a few clicks away and without any way of new customers being able to choose by the food quality alone, you will initially have to find other ways to entice custom and stand out against your competition.

Meal Deals and Offers

It’s a well-known fact that we all love a deal or a freebie, and that’s no different when ordering food. Offering customers with discounted meal deals or offers such as 10 or 15% off, it is guaranteed to pick up more traction. These deals don’t need to be a constant but choose your timing wisely and it could really help to boost your takeaway sales.

Gift Vouchers or Loyalty Schemes

Gift vouchers and loyalty schemes are a great way or encouraging repeat customers to return. After a customer has placed an order, you can send them a little ‘thank you’ to their registered email in the medium of a gift voucher, special discount code or even allow them to start a loyalty scheme. All of which have excellent persuasion power when it comes to bringing back that customer.

Nail Your Food Packaging

How to package your food for the delivery process is one of the most important conditions because poor packaging can really alter the quality of your food on the journey from counter to customer. Dishes should be separated by temperature and it’s extra beneficial if components can be packed individually for a self-build at home. If you are serving ‘dry foods,’ you won’t need to buy special containers as cardboard will generally do the trick. However, for  ‘wet’ foods such as stews and curry, you will need to invest in PLA lined, leak-proof takeaway boxes. Don’t forget a high-quality, insulated food delivery bag for your delivery driver, too. 

Legal Requirements of Food Delivery Services 

For businesses to shift from a restaurant to a takeaway operation, it previously would be required to go through a quite a rigorous application process via the local council for a change of use. However, due to the current coronavirus pandemic, the applications have been halted for the next 12 months, meaning restaurants, pubs, cafes and bars can trade as a takeaway as and when they want. BUT, this doesn’t mean you don’t have to comply with the laws.

Any food sellers providing food for public consumption must meet the appropriate legal requirements set out in EU law Regulation (EC) No 178/2002:

  • food must be safe, fit for human consumption and not injurious to health
  • you must be able to produce information on demand regarding suppliers of food, ingredients, food-producing animals and those businesses that you have supplied with products
  • you must withdraw unsafe foods or recall if a customer has already purchased the food, and you must inform your local authorities and The Food Standards Agency
  • under The Food Information Regulations 2014, food labelling, presentation and advertising must be clear and not misleading for customers and all allergens must be clearly stated 

Hygiene Requirements for Food Delivery Service

Food hygiene for a takeaway is no less important than when you are running a restaurant; food safety practices must be adhered to at all times, considering cooking, cleaning, preventing cross-contamination and heating, chilling and storing food correctly.

However, while the general food safety elements remain the same, running a food delivery business means you must now also consider factors such as how you are going to transport your food. Any food should be transported in sealed, heat-retaining containers and served at the optimum temperature as this prevents foreign objects from finding their way onto the food and shields the food from bacteria. You must also have full confidence that every staff member handling the food on every step of its journey has good food hygiene knowledge – including delivery drivers.

At Dephna, we offer complete flexibility and 24-hour access with commission-free deliveries. If you’re interested in renting one of our commercial kitchens, enquire now to book a visit. Or check out our Kitchen Talk to stay up to date with the latest industry news and advice.

by Dephna

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