Several Michelin starred and other high end restaurants have started delivering stripped down versions of their menus in big UK cities as they attempt to find ways to sell fine dining through the coronavirus lockdown.
More than 100 restaurants have contacted Supper, the delivery service specialising in upmarket London restaurants, while other operators have set up their own takeaway initiatives as they battle to maintain revenues during the enforced government shutdown.
Dishes available for delivery range from sous vide miso cod created by private jet chefs, to a £135 dim sum menu from Mayfair restaurant Hakkasan. Supper’s customers typically spend between £90 and £120 per order.
Daniel Hulme, a former private jet chef, has spent £100,000 developing a blast chilling system that allows his chefs to prepare dishes to a point where customers can reheat and finish them to “Michelin star quality” with a set of provided gels and garnishes. Two courses cost £49.95.
The service is in stark contrast to many consumers’ current experience in obtaining food — regular grocery delivery slots are sold out and households are often having to brave busy, understocked supermarkets.
Campbell Mickel, head chef and founder of the Bib Gourmand restaurant Merienda in Edinburgh, said he viewed the delivery service as “a kind of public service”. He said the restaurant had moved from a small dish tasting menu to more “hearty food” such as boeuf bourguignon as it was easier for customers to dish up.
He added: “We prepare it 95 per cent the [same] way including the cooking, package it, and deliver.”
Supper said it had added at least 2,000 customers since March 20 and was processing more than 200 orders a day.
It has a waiting list of around 40 restaurants, while it has turned away 60 that did not meet its criteria, including high street chains or local kebab shops.
But Peter Georgiou, Supper’s chief executive, warned the new stay-at-home economy was “a double-edged sword”: “One moment we’re doing a lot of business, at another we’re losing restaurants that don’t want their staff on site at all.”
Mr Georgiou said that after the government’s enforced UK closure of restaurants on Friday, 50 per cent of the 80 restaurants on Supper’s books shut down completely.
Martin Williams, chief executive of the steak chain Gaucho, which launched a steak delivery service last week, said he had decided to end it on Friday because “we felt it appropriate to follow government advice on staying at home and non-essential travel.”
The coronavirus outbreak is set to exacerbate a boom in delivery as customers have increasingly chosen to have meals sent to their homes. Data compiled by Barclaycard, which monitors around half the UK’s debit and credit card transactions, showed that in January monthly spending on takeaway meals increased 11.4 per cent, while spending on eating out fell by 3.5 per cent.
But few services have been able to replicate the experience of fine dining, where precision timing and presentation is a high priority.
“Uber Eats and Deliveroo are fantastic companies but there is nothing for the mid to high end — people who spend £50-£60 in a restaurant once a week,” said Mr Hulme. “A lot of the better restaurants don’t want to use those delivery services because it doesn’t turn out as their chefs want it.”
Charles Hall, an analyst at Peel Hunt, warned that the trend for upscale delivery was unlikely to last. “I can see people doing it as a real treat to cheer them up in these times, but can I see anyone doing it when life goes back to normal? I can’t see why you would.”