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Last updated: 12th June 2020

The UK and much of the world has been dealing with COVID-19 as a pandemic for a few months now, which means lockdowns and quarantine for all but essential personnel. As a result, many businesses, particularly food businesses, are continuing to face new challenges in order to keep their business afloat.

Thankfully, the recognition of coronavirus as a serious issue for food businesses has meant that UK government departments, as well as various brands who work with food businesses, have created ways to support them.

Below, we have compiled information on support for UK food businesses, whether you are a restaurant, market stall seller, delivery food business, or looking to move into food delivery to sustain your food brand.

Using Dark Kitchens To Maintain Your Food Business (Including In New Locations)

For food business owners, not knowing when they can reopen to foot traffic has raised huge questions about what can be done to maintain food businesses and avoid complete closure or loss of employee jobs.

Common queries at the start of quarantine included: Can I still operate viably as a delivery service? As a takeaway? Can I switch to delivering food even if I wasn’t doing so previously? The answer to most of these is yes, and there are further options if you want to grow your delivery service using dark kitchens.

Food Deliveries & Takeaways Are Safe For Customers

Restaurants, markets and shops will have to remain closed during COVID-19. However, since it is ‘very unlikely that you can catch coronavirus from food‘ or food packaging, restaurants and takeaways can continue to offer delivery and pick-up. However, you should not take orders on the premises, instead taking orders by phone or online to avoid unnecessary person-to-person contact.

If you are a food business, such as a restaurant, that had not previously offered delivery or takeaway, you may start to offer these services. However, you will need to ensure you are following food safety regulations and adapt your internal systems, while maintaining staff social distancing.

You Can Still Offer Pick-up/Takeaway, But Cannot Accept In Person Orders

neon sign reading take away in all capital letters

The government also encourages staggered collection times. Since delivery services are still operating, food can still be delivered to customers. However, you will want to avoid having too many delivery drivers/riders and/or customers arriving at the same time. This way, you can easily offer collections to one driver/rider or customer at a time, without them overlapping.

For those who previously operated as market stalls, there is no easy takeaway option as you will not be able to set up your stand. An alternative for these businesses is to look into getting a dark kitchen – a rented commercial kitchen that does not have a storefront and can be used for food delivery.

Pivot Into Food Delivery In A Dark Kitchen

Businesses with operational kitchens who can maintain social distancing are now able to offer a delivery service, even if they weren’t doing so before. Numerous food delivery service companies, like Deliveroo and Uber Eats, allow you to establish a delivery service quickly with minimal setup and without having to hire your own drivers or riders. You can take orders online or by telephone and keep your business going this way.

If you don’t have a workable kitchen, don’t want to try and set up a permanent space, or are looking to start delivering in a new area, then setting up a dark kitchen is a great option. Dark kitchens are available all over London and in many major cities in the UK. They can be hired fully equipped with everything you need to get started: fridges, freezers, counters and cookers, or you can bring your own equipment.

Additionally, because dark kitchens are popping up everywhere, you can set up a delivery-only kitchen in popular delivery areas and so be able to get food to customers quickly and efficiently. As the radius of delivery can play a big part in food safety and customer satisfaction (if it takes too long, they won’t think it’s worth the wait), having a local dark kitchen can allow your business to thrive, even in these uncertain times.

Government Support

The UK government has created numerous guides for dealing with COVID-19, including guidance for the general public on social distancing and specific advice for employers, employees and businesses (in general). These guidelines should be shared and read by everyone.

Looking specifically at food businesses, there is some advice for those dealing with COVID-19 included in the guidelines. At the moment, all non-essential businesses have been told to close and this includes markets, restaurants and shops to enable social distancing. It looks likely that some non-essential businesses will be able to reopen in June 2020, though the date is yet to be confirmed.

If you have had to close completely during the pandemic, as you prepare to reopen, the government’s Food Standards Agency has some key advice and guidance for you. Follow this checklist to make sure you are reopening safety.

You Can Get Financial Support

There is a lot of financial support being offered for small businesses (which we’ve covered in our Financial Support guide), for employers and employees. What you and your employees are eligible for will depend on how long your business has been running, its size and what employees you have.

Universal Credit & Employment And Support Allowance

Those who are self-employed or employees who lose their jobs or work can apply for Universal Credit or an Employment and Support Allowance. This may apply to micro businesses and startup food brands who were just getting started when COVID-19 appeared.

Sick Pay

Statutory sick pay (SSP) is available to those who are following the advice to stay home and therefore cannot work, as well as those who are unable to work because they are sick. This is important for small businesses to know, in order to support their employees.

Furlough (Temporary Leave)

As part of The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, employers may put employees on temporary leave, known as furlough. This can be applied to full-time and part-time employees, and those on fixed term and zero hour contracts. You can also re-employ employees who were made redundant or who ceased working for a company after 28th February 2020 and furlough them.

Employees cannot furlough themselves, only employers can do this. Neither can the employee claim the percentage of wages, which will have to be claimed by the business and then paid to the employee. As we move out of quarantine, the percentage of pay contributed by your business will increase, with the government’s expectation and aim to get businesses reopened as normal.

As of March 1st 2020, businesses were able to furlough team members. You can continue to apply for furlough, using your Government Gateway portal for PAYE, though you can only add new employees to furlough until the end of June. More details can be found in our financial support article.

Your Local Council May Have Support Schemes

Depending on which borough or county you live in, there may be business support schemes being set up or in place to help you. These include:

  • Local businesses support
  • Food business funding
  • Opportunities for food provision
  • Business mentoring (to help your business survive COVID-19) from:
    • Accountants
    • Business Managers
    • Banks
    • Growth Strategists
    • Other local business owners.

Brand Support Schemes

Food delivery, along with subscription and other delivery services, is thriving right now. Food brands that already used delivery companies, like Just Eat, Deliveroo and Uber Eats, will find that these companies are stepping up to support them in various ways.

Uber Eats – Restaurant Support

Uber Eats have already made a number of changes to support restaurants and other food businesses during COVID-19. As part of their initial response, they are:

  • Waiving sign-up fees for new food businesses getting on board
  • Introducing fast-track onboarding to get you started on the app quickly
  • Opening the platform to catering companies and convenience stores

They have also implemented “Leave at Door” Delivery. This is a staple for delivery companies now and ensures the safety of both deliverers and customers. All deliveries are now contact free and that message is clearly communicated to customers when placing their orders.

If you are thinking of moving into food delivery so that your food business can continue to operate, you may want to consider signing up with Uber Eats as they are also ensuring the protection of their couriers with safety advice and financial support. For those couriers who are diagnosed with COVID-19, or who have to self-isolate for safety, Uber is offering an additional 14 days of financial assistance.

You can find more information here about Uber Eats restaurant support.

Just Eat – Restaurant Support

Just Eat have introduced contact-free delivery and are encouraging card payments on all orders as a result. Currently, they are allowing cash payments but recommend customers place cash in envelopes for the exchange so all parties maintain social distancing.

To help food businesses access their funds sooner, Just Eat Partners will be able to receive funds on a twice weekly payment schedule from April 20th to June 30th 2020 – though this may be extended. As Just Eat manages payments for orders through its own system, this will help food businesses manage their cash flow.

Just Eat have also introduced guidance on how to keep customers happy while dealing with the increased pressure on their business during this time. They offer tips on:

  • Making day to day decisions on opening
  • Meeting high demand in a delivery area
  • Adding time to orders
  • Social distancing with deliveries
  • Amending ingredients based on stock availability.

You can learn more about restaurant support from Just Eat by logging into the Partner Centre or signing up.

Deliveroo – Restaurant Support

Contact-free delivery has been introduced by Deliveroo for the safety of both customers and riders. Deliveroo have stated that they are ‘in daily contact with local health officials to make sure we are offering customers, restaurants and riders the most up-to-date guidance and safest service possible’.

To support restaurants and food businesses using their service, they have:

  • Lowered onboarding fees for new businesses signing up
  • Established teams to recruit and support new restaurants wanting to deliver food
  • Published guidance on how to run safe delivery-only services
  • Created online marketing support to help restaurants engage customers as a delivery-only business
  • Campaigned for further government support for restaurants

Deliveroo have also created their own partnerships with non-restaurant food suppliers, like M&S and BP service stations, to allow delivery through the app of their new range ‘Essentials by Deliveroo’, which includes tinned food, pasta and household products. This has been rolled out over a number of major cities in the UK. This should be a positive sign for other non-restaurant foods brands looking to pivot into food delivery and looking for a welcoming and supportive delivery partner.

They have also equipped all riders with hand sanitiser and masks to ensure their safety, and will provide financial support to riders via a rider support fund.

Read the latest details here of the restaurant support available from Deliveroo.

Restaurant Booking Brands Are Shifting To Help With Delivery

Alongside restaurants and market stalls taking a hit due to COVID-19 closures, restaurant booking sites and apps are also suffering. Bookatable and OpenTable are two of the most popular booking services who have been sharing advice for businesses who can no longer serve their target customers.

OpenTable – Restaurant & Customer Support

OpenTable have been quick to respond to the needs of the restaurants they work with, pivoting to help by partnering with a number of delivery services, including Deliveroo and Uber Eats. If you are a restaurant that had been listed for bookings with OpenTable, you should now be able to make a delivery service available through their new delivery section. They are also compiling a list of independent restaurants who are offering takeaways, so contact OpenTable if you would like to be included on that list.

Fundraising has been highlighted by OpenTable as one of the critical ways in which food businesses, especially restaurants, need support. They have made it possible to include links to fundraisers for your restaurant on your OpenTable profile page, to encourage customers to support you.

OpenTable have mentioned that buying gift cards is another way in which customers can support their favourite local restaurants, and as a result help closed restaurants to pay staff and bills during COVID-19 closures. Using their gift card marketplace, customers can buy gift cards for future meals at your restaurant – with the fees waived by OpenTable.

They are also offering fee relief to any restaurant impacted by COVID-19 and are working with local restaurant associations to find more ways in which they can support the food sector.

Bookatable – Support For Food Businesses

Booktable have offered some similar advice to OpenTable in response to COVID-19. They have highlighted the suggestion for restaurants to encourage customers to support any fundraisers and to buy gift cards, especially if they had a previous booking.

Other Business Support

Two of the biggest channels for support are the delivery brands, which are enabling the continuation of food services, and the government. But these aren’t the only avenues available to you as a food business. Many other businesses, from across sectors and of varying sizes, are pitching in to support others where they can.

Look At Business Mentorship Schemes

If you are a small business struggling to understand what to do and how to make sense of new information regarding businesses loans, furlough, etc, then you may want to investigate business mentorship. Some companies are offering free COVID advice. Your local council website, business forums and local business support groups may have more details of who to contact to seek help.

Speak To Banks, Accountants & Other Financial Advisors

You may be able to get one-to-one advice and business support from your bank, account or other financial advisors. Even if you haven’t worked with an account in a while, it’s still worth investigating what they may be able to do to help you. Similarly, look at local or specialist financial advisors’ websites to see if there are new advice documents or video sessions being offered to help your business.

Become Part Of Meals For The NHS

sealed lunch salad boxes with croutons, avocado and dipping sauce

Meals for the NHS has been set up in response to the COVID crisis and the simple fact that hospital canteens close at 5pm while the staff are working round the clock. Donations from the public are now funding thousands of meals which are being delivered by local food providers to various hospitals. This could be a revenue stream for your business if you can provide meals.

There are a few requirements, and not every business will be chosen. They are:

  • You must be experienced in packing 50+ meals safely and in storable, reheatable individual portions
  • You must have an HFSA rating of 4 or above
  • Each meal must cost £6 or less, with delivery
  • Meals must include those to suit a variety of diets, like veggie and vegan
  • You must be able to include a list of all ingredients and allergy information
  • You must be able to print and send a flyer with each order

Engage With Your Community Online

While the above will help you maintain your business and offer some new routes to figuring out what your options are, you should also try to reach out to your community. Engage with customers on social media, especially if you are moving into delivery only, to improve awareness of your restaurant continuing to operate. You can also ask your customers to write online reviews, on delivery service apps and Google, to keep your name out there and give your brand the best chance of bouncing back once COVID-19 restrictions subside.

Start Fundraisers And/Or Gift Card Schemes

If you are unable to continue your food business in some capacity, you should consider finding ways to raise funds from your customers. You could use one of the fundraisers like Just Giving or GoFundMe to set up your own campaign. Start by figuring out how much you need to keep going and then look at goal options to help you reach that.

Alternatively, London restaurants have started creating “War Bonds”, which are stylised gift cards invoking the coming together during war time to support one another. These gift cards can be for meals in the future, perhaps offering a discount on food. So for a £100 voucher, you can get a special menu worth £200.

FoodStars Support For Food Brands

As the operators of delivery-only kitchens, we are available to help any and all food brands who may be looking to make the move from dine-in to delivery. Our kitchens are already set up to be health and safety approved and can include industrial-grade equipment, which will allow your team to move in and get set up in no time.

Get in touch with our team to talk about how we can help you.

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