Last updated: 4th November 2020
The UK and much of the world has been dealing with COVID-19 as a pandemic for a few months now, which means local and national lockdowns and quarantines 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 lockdowns, though they are allowed to remain open when moved into the Tier restrictions which follow the Local COVID alert levels. It is ‘very unlikely that you can catch coronavirus from food‘ or food packaging, and restaurants and takeaways can continue to offer delivery and pick-up.
During lockdowns, you should not take orders on the premises, instead taking orders by phone or online to avoid unnecessary person-to-person contact. Any businesses still operating with takeaway only should do so following COVID safety guidelines, namely:
- face coverings for staff and customers (for all those who are able to wear them)
- using sanitiser
- social distancing where possible, including limiting customers inside when purchasing or collecting orders
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
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 licensed 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 licensed 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.
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. The current November lockdown in England is due to last one month, though confirmation of when it will end will be announced as the month progresses and will depend on the rate of infection.
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.
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.Furlough can be used for employees who were ‘on an employer’s PAYE payroll by 23:59 30th October 2020‘.
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. This was due to end on the 31st October 2020 but has now been extended to December (end date not yet confirmed). While the new allowance was reduced to account for employees going back to work, this extension increases to its original rate. This means that employees can receive up to 80% of their current salary, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. 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.