Take It Away: Fine-Diners Look to New Ways to Serve Customers

Jul 17, 2020

One Tasmanian restaurateur is looking at keeping takeaway options beyond the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many restaurant and café owners to rethink their business models. While some have been forced to shut their doors (possibly for good, unfortunately), others have transformed their established eateries into short-term takeaways.

As parts of the country continue to re-open in a ‘new normal’ and Melbourne heads back into lockdown, we take a look at the surprising benefits of takeaway services – even for a fine-dining.

Many operators would never have considered offering takeaway meals before. But with healthy returns and a projected shift in customer dining habits, some are considering making it a permanent solution instead of something they thought might just be a vehicle to help ride out the crisis.

Kim Seagram, who owns the iconic Stillwater restaurant and Black Cow Bistro in Launceston, understood she needed to take swift and decisive action to save both businesses and protect the livelihoods of her staff.

“With the impact of social distancing on Black Cow Bistro, which is a very small space [part of an art deco butcher’s shop], we knew we had to start pivoting early,” she says.

“About 10 days before we were due to shut down, we started offering ‘steakaway’ options. They proved very popular during isolation.”

After customers ordered by phone or online, Kim’s staff made deliveries to nearby suburbs. This kept her staff employed and meant Kim didn’t need to rely on delivery platforms charging hefty fees.

“We needed to keep the team engaged in the workplace and motivated, looking forward to their next shift, as we had to share those few hours around the whole team,” says Kim. “We also had to keep our two staff on international visas employed so they had rent and food money, so it was for the good of all.”

Image: @stillwatertas

Within two weeks of closing Stillwater, loyal locals were clamouring for a home-dining option as well. Transforming the fine-diner to takeaway wasn’t as easy as it was with Black Cow Bistro, says Kim, with a more complex menu requiring some refining. But even that had a silver lining.

“It did give us a chance to offer some great old favourites from menus past,” she says. “At 20 years old, we do have a few Stillwater favourites that have made a great comeback, such as our lamb wrap.”

In a landscape where the celebration of a night out was sorely missed, customers embraced Stillwater’s takeaway option.

“They were so surprised about the quality of what we were able to get to their door, they were laying out the fine china and crystal in preparation for their special takeaway meal,” says Kim. “We got some fabulous photos and reviews from very happy diners!”

While she concedes that “not in a pink fit” had she ever envisaged takeaway as an option for Stillwater – and acknowledges the cost of biodegradable packaging was an unpleasant shock – this inadvertent testing of the market has only returned positive feedback. So much so that while Stillwater’s dinner service will revert to in-house, takeaway breakfast, lunch and coffee options will remain.

While Black Cow Bistro’s tiny workspaces preclude the continuation of takeaway, Kim says she’s exploring options for creating a dark kitchen. Watch this space.

An initiative of Fine Food, Hospitality Unites is the voice of the foodservice industry, dedicated to sharing the collective experiences and solutions to thrive in a post-COVID economy.

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