Eateries in major cities like London are turning to takeaway and delivery options to make ends meet, but are still suffering from decimated sales and worries about health risks.
With strict new rules regarding the UK-wide lockdown which bans gatherings of more than two people in public, cafés and restaurants in London are trying to stay open by offering takeaway menus.
Cottons, a Caribbean restaurant at Notting Hill Gate in London is one establishment that has put these new measures in place. Before the Coronavirus outbreak, the branch had “no less than 70 to 80 per day luckily,” according to Marina, the general manager.
“We are doing a lot of takeaways honestly. Between midday and 10 pm, it is not a good business now but it is the only solution we have to survive. My chef and I are in the restaurant. I turn on my tablet, I receive the Deliveroo, I pack up the bag. The driver is outside, I am going to give him the bag, he collects it and gives it to the customer. That’s it.”
Most cafés and restaurants have already closed their shops temporarily to help fight coronavirus.
Similar restaurant and café shutdowns have been observed in other big cities like New York, Paris and Milan. At least half of New York City's roughly 26,000 restaurants have been shuttered, putting a large number of people out of work.
As in other countries in the world, 27 million people in Britain watched their prime minister deliver a message of precaution asking people to stay at home in order to protect the country's National Health Service. As of Monday night, UK citizens were ordered to stay indoors and to only go out for the four main reasons: shopping for necessities, one form of exercise a day, any medical needs and travelling to and from work, if you are a key worker or when this is necessary. These were the strictest restrictions Britain had seen since the end of World War II.
Further to the prime minister’s Covid-19 emergency rules, all shops that are not selling essential goods that buyers need, must close until further notice. Failure to do so will see shopkeepers issued with a fine. The matter of coronavirus should be taken seriously as the number of deaths in the UK continues to increase with a total of 422 by Tuesday March 24.
UK citizens are getting used to these new measures along with other countries around the world where public life has drastically changed in order to slow down the spread of the coronavirus outbreak. In Italy, restrictions are in place until April 3, but could extend to July 31. The country has issued a nationwide lockdown ordering its 60 million residents to stay at home. The French government has announced a strict nationwide lockdown too, banning all public gatherings last week and urging residents to stay at home. People in France are required to fill out a document stating their reason for leaving their house. New York City has also required its citizens to stay indoors as coronavirus cases in the city have risen sharply. Some cafés in Brooklyn, including thousands of restaurants in New York have started a take out or delivery option only just like London.
There are currently more than 423,000 cases of Covid-19 confirmed around the world with more than 18,000 deaths.
While people are stuck at home during the coronavirus crisis, they are able to order food from restaurants and cafés as long as they are still trading.
Most restaurants and cafés can remain open if they apply social distancing and can only provide their customers with takeaway food and delivery services. This gives companies such as Deliveroo a much harder task during the pandemic, as the level of orders has shown a drastic increase ever since the evening of March 20.
As many as 3,000 restaurants have signed up to the platform in the past month and many businesses have now gone online to continue to deliver food to their clients. Said [last name withheld], who works for Deliveroo stated: “The company has seen restaurant sign-ups jump by 86 per cent in the past two weeks as Covid-19 forces restaurants, cafés and pubs to close down. On an average day, I used to earn around £30 ($35) per night. Since Friday when cafés and restaurants only offer to take away service, I am earning double the amount per night.”
Deliveroo has teamed up with BP fuel stations and the supermarket Marks & Spencer to offer deliveries of essentials for households in self-isolation.
"This means customers who are unable to go out, will be able to order products including milk, bread, juices and a range of pizzas and ready-meals", the firm announced. "Around 120 Marks & Spencer's franchises will be signed up across the UK, and there will be no delivery fees", Deliveroo added.
Despite the fact that the delivery company could benefit from restaurants shutting down and only being allowed to offer takeaways and deliveries, many café owners and hospitality employees are also under the same Covid-19 lockdown, not just putting their earnings but also their jobs at risk. Even those that are open and working are worried about the effects of Covid-19 on their business and health.
The precautions regarding the Covid-19 rules are being taken seriously across London, and many restaurant owners are piling their restaurant's chairs and tables to prevent customers from sitting down, offering take-away only. In the heart of Holland Park Avenue, in London’s Kensington area, pizza shop manager Mehran worries about the pandemic and how the changes are beginning to affect the shop's income and costs.
“Before the coronavirus pandemic, we had so many customers for breakfast. Right now we have no more customers for breakfast and lunch. Clients come just for take-away and all the tables and chairs are piled on top of each other,” he said.
Helping the community
One positive thing is that a few shops and cafés in London have decided to help their communities during the crisis despite the fact they have fewer customers.
Cesar, the director of Portobello Health Foods on London’s famous Portobello Road said: “Before coronavirus we used to have a lively shop where people used to come in at lunchtime and in the afternoon to eat in or take away. Everyone was happier. Now the scenario is different. It’s like a ghost town, we have barely any customers and we only remain open to serve the community. Business is 75 percent down but we are serving some dried goods, which we didn’t before, just to help people and stop people queuing outside supermarkets. When they get there, there are no eggs, no bread or pasta. We aren’t making a profit. We are selling them at a cost price to help the community.”
Massimo Franchi, the CEO of Badiani (Gelato) LTD said: “[This past month] has been a footfall that has been a third of last year. We were preparing for this lockdown. We only offer takeaways now. We could close because of the number of customers that we have but I think that we are a service for the community, so we are taking precautions. We are working with Deliveroo because we hope that with a bit of gelato we can bring a nice moment to children and people at home.”
The VQ restaurant branch in Kensington used to have an average of 150 customers a day. General Manager Antonella said: “When coronavirus started we decided to shut down our stores. It is still dangerous to take the underground. The company doesn’t want to put at risk the rest of the staff just because of takeaway. We are waiting to see what the regulations will be that the government put in place. We still don’t know what will happen and how to access that help.”
Another café in the area is Panache Chocolates. “Being a rather specialist store, our café would have only about 40-60 visitors a day in the seating area, with another 20-30 take away,” said Faisal Samadi, the store’s managing director. “Our main income was from the chocolate gift items we make, and we’re looking forward to the upcoming Easter season. We normally deliver our chocolate centrepieces around the world, and for events like very large weddings and at Easter we sell many large chocolate eggs. However without our workshop and shop being open, and with the chocolate factory in France being closed due to the instructions from the government, we cancelled our Easter production.”
His worries are about how the British government will expect businesses like his to pay rent, expenses and direct debits. “The closures came too late in my opinion, as businesses were already experiencing depressed demand in the weeks leading up to the closures and they may last longer. I have told my staff I will not be sacking them. However with no money coming in, at some point we will need the government to step in, and not just talk about it. Loans are not a solution. We have been instructed to isolate and to stay closed. Our store rent needs paying.”
Coronavirus is not just affecting the UK capital’s food establishments but the city as a whole. With the strict quarantine measures in place even the top tourist hotspot of Oxford Circus is empty.