“I must give the British people a very simple instruction. You must stay at home”. With these words on 23 March, the Prime Minister ushered in the most far reaching behavioural change amongst the British people. The immediate reaction was concern over the necessities. Supermarkets were raided for food (and toilet rolls) and shelves were stripped bare. But another reaction was setting in beneath this raw demand for food and for some people that resolved itself into the question of how would they replace the meals that they were used to eating in restaurants? The infrastructure existed in the form of restaurant delivery. Up stepped Domino’s and other pizza chains who had developed their own technology to manage their order taking, pizza production, and delivery infrastructure.
Building on their strong relationships with their customers, they were able to meet the growing demand for their products. And about a month into lockdown, Just Eat, another technology market-place business, whose sales had significantly slowed down immediately after the Prime Minister’s announcement, was tapping into its nationwide base of independent restaurants and takeaways who were able to stay open, to prepare meals for delivery.
At this time, chain operators, partly out of concern over their ability to ensure safe working conditions, had all but shut down, but after a few weeks of lockdown they too were starting to reopen. Meanwhile the restaurant delivery business of Deliveroo and UberEats, had slowed massively since chain operators had stopped any form of meal production. The delivery companies replaced this lost business in part by delivering groceries and alcoholic drinks and made minor pivots towards helping the vulnerable who, unable to go shopping, stayed at home.
Two months into lockdown, the restaurant delivery market having initially substantially fallen, was now once again on the rise and by the end of June, sales, measured at Gross Market Values – sales to consumers – were broadly up to pre-lockdown levels and running at about £750 million a month when the rest of the restaurant sector was all but dead.
Delivery, which only a handful of years ago, had been a start-up market disruptor became a core underpinning of the restaurant sector during covid lockdown.
Now, delivery – a potent marriage of technology and last mile delivery -is morphing at speed into other channels too, with the rise of dark kitchens being a prime example. Where will it go from here?
Peter Backman joins the BFFF on Wednesday 16th September to look further into the technology shift in Foodservice due to COVID-19 – Sign up here