Restaurants and cafes are deserted, and catering businesses that rely heavily on large functions are feeling the full impact of life under restrictions caused by COVID-19.
But amid the panic, savvy restaurants and food supply businesses are pivoting their operations to try to stay afloat and keep staff employed.
You might not be able to eat your KFC in store any more, but delivery services are on the increase via already well-established companies including UberEats, Deliveroo and Menulog, and most have added a no-contact option so you can request meals be left on the doorstep.
Other restaurants who have not previously offered takeaway options are having to think outside the box to remain afloat.
Barry Iddles, owner of waterfront restaurant 360Q at Queenscliff Harbour on the Bellarine Peninsula, has suffered a severe downturn of restaurant bookings despite introducing stringent hygiene protocols, and is fielding increasing numbers of calls to cancel weddings, parties and large events slated for the restaurant’s first-floor functions space.
Functions are dropping left, right and centre,” he said.
“We have lost $140,000 literally in a day.”
Mr Iddles says 360Q is a destination fine-dining restaurant that thrives on its harbourfront locale.
Takeaway has not been part of the business model – until now.
Mr Iddles and his team have begun offering 14-day isolation evening meal kits with deliveries twice a week so the meals are fresh, not frozen.
Single serves will also be available for customers to collect as heat-and-eat meals, and staff will deliver bread, milk, butter, fruit and veggies for a fee.
Mr Iddles says the meals will be in line with the restaurant’s a la carte flair and include snapper fillet with braised capsicum, oyster mushrooms and rice; duck risotto’ and pork belly rice and bok choy among others.
We are trying to be quite smart and innovative – I am lucky – I have a refrigerated van which will be sanitised to the nth degree,” Mr Iddles said.
“I can put the van on the Searoad ferry and leave it running and deliver to the Mornington Peninsula as well as the Bellarine.”
Mr Iddles says these measures are aimed at keeping his business afloat and keep as many of his staff employed as possible, both at 360Q and Elk at Falls restaurant, which he runs at Falls Creek during snow season.
“The profit margin on take-home is way lower. It is more about a service and trying to almost break even rather than dramatic loss,” he said.
Adrian Griffith, owner of Fat Cats Fancy Catering, has run his event functions and food truck business for six years.
Weddings are his specialty, and he has had six jobs cancel in the past week – that’s bad news as events in April help him to get through a seasonally slow winter period.
“The April money is like a squirrel with his nuts,” he said.
Basically I won’t have any savings for winter, which sucks.”
Mr Griffith shares a commercial kitchen in Sunshine in Melbourne’s western suburbs with a chef whose main clients include the MCG, Marvel Stadium and Spring Racing Carnival, so the two have devised a new business opportunity to stay afloat – comfort food.
Each week they will create daily packs of one vegetarian and one meat dish to be delivered locally or picked up by customers, kicking off with lemony ricotta-stuffed cannelloni and extravagant ragu bolognese lasagne.
“We chose them for the comfort food aspect – that’s what everyone needs right now. We are going to update the menu each week to choose a couple more comfort food classics each week,” he said.
Mr Griffith posted on a local Buy Swap Sell Facebook group and the response was so overwhelming he set up online orders.
But, like Mr Iddles, the initiative will return a much lower profit margin and will be a stop-gap to ride out the coronavirus.
We are not going to make any money out of this venture for the next three months. It will purely be to cover rent and outgoings,’’ he said.
“It is about $2000 a week together, so the meals should cover that, hopefully. The alternative would be breaking the lease on the kitchen and calling it off.”
He says consumers will see more businesses doing similar things in the coming weeks, and urged people to get behind them.
“I am part of a few hospitality Facebook groups and have seen four to five posts over the past few days of chefs in the kitchens not having any work so they are going online with a similar idea.”