Flashback to this time a year ago and you were spoiled for choice for at-home restaurant experiences. Having just come out of a tough lockdown, during which many restaurants were forced to close, some of these businesses sprang into action when they were allowed to reopen. While some partnered with Uber Eats or Mr D, others set up delivery services themselves. Now, a year later, while many restaurants have resumed their regular service, some eateries are still offering an “at-home” version of their dine-in menus. Does this mean these services are still a viable source of income for them? And, if so, will these restaurants continue this offering, even once the pandemic is over? We chatted to some local restaurant owners to find out.
Amid the level 5 lockdown, restaurants were completely barred from any operations. Even when restrictions eased, limited capacities meant fewer diners could be served. Wasting no time to pivot was Joburg’s DW Eleven-13, which initially offered a delivery service but shifted to their current “collection” menu. “We offer a tasting menu for two, made up of the dishes on our menu for sit-in guests,” says chef and owner Marthinus Ferreira.
Nic Haarhoff, owner of Cape Town’s El Burro, says that despite offering deliveries via delivery apps before lockdown, they had to come up with a new plan once regulations were put in place. “We found ourselves with fixed costs, a family of employees, and no way to trade. So took our trade to the customer and developed our ‘taco box’ meal kits,” says Nic. “They’re hard work – and beyond our normal realm of operations, but, they got us through our darkest days.”
Though restaurants can operate with much more freedom now, the fact that some have chosen to continue with their takeaway options hints that there’s more to this than just COVID precautions. In DW’s case, while takeaways slowed now that people are allowed to dine in, Marthinus says they’re continuing with them as a complement to this. “We are constantly working on new menus for the takeaway collections and also run a burger Friday every second week [soon to be once a month], which has had a great response,” he says.
Colette MacLennan, owner of The General Store on Bree Street in Cape Town, said that offering preordered, ready-made meals undoubtedly saved her business. Known for their ever-changing salads, the café shifted to pre-prepared meals once they were able to operate again and have continued to do so well into 2021. “Previously, we stocked our fridge knowing we’d have a steady stream of customers working nearby,” says Colette. “Now, as people are working from home, there’s no guarantee of walk-ins, so our pre-order system helps us manage things a bit better without the risk of wasting anything.”
Nic Haarhoff expands on this by saying that their takeaways offer more than just another stream of income – they’re a contingency plan too. “They’re a necessity during these waves where we lose a lot of sit-down trade,” he adds.
Now that these takeaways have shown such promise, what will these restaurants do in a hopefully not-too-distant, post-COVID future? “We’ll continue with the takeaways should there be a demand,” says Ferreira. “People still want to celebrate with an amazing meal and every little cent helps.”
Haarhoff also says they’re considering keeping the taco boxes, albeit with a few changes. “It’s hard to run both sit-down and full-blown takeaway from the restaurants,” says Nic. “We’d like to develop a more streamlined process, which probably requires investment into infrastructure – perhaps a dark kitchen – to take it to a full-time source of revenue.”
For The General Store, these prepared items might become part of their permanent set-up in future. “Based on the support for them so far, it makes sense for us to keep them,” says MacLennan.
Precautions aside, it’s always exciting to have new ways to support local restaurants, and sometimes there’s nothing better than doing so from the comfort of your own home.