Takeaway UK: how imaginative restaurants have adapted to cope with the new reality 

Takeaways and deliveries have provided a lifeline to thousands of restaurants across Britain, and many are giving back to their communities

nigel flatt 
Nigel Flatt with wife Wendy and daughter Alice, who switched their restaurant to a takeaway business overnight Credit: David Rose 

It was week three when the cravings kicked in. I love cooking, but all that planning, prep, washing up – I needed a change. My girlfriend and I decided we’d have a date night, with candles, wine and “special occasion” food.

A local spot, Lyon’s Seafood & Wine Bar in north London, had advertised its new, streamlined delivery menu, full of fancy things I wouldn’t make at home. We called and, within an hour, sat down to a soft shell crab burger, miso-glazed fish collar and a wonderfully dressed burrata and tomato salad. It was, almost, like being at the restaurant – we had to do the dishes, after all.

It’s not only Lyon’s, which didn’t deliver before lockdown, turning its business on its head. We mainly think of takeaway food as limited to a few cuisines, often from delivery-specific locations. Now everywhere from Michelin-starred restaurants to neighbourhood bistros, your local café to your local, is delivering.

In April, Google Maps began highlighting restaurants delivering, much like it signposts petrol stations or chemists. A few weeks into lockdown, the Telegraph reported that restaurants already offering delivery were experiencing soaring demand – in one case, a 400 per cent year-on-year increase.

Some are offering full menus, others ready meals. Burger chain Patty & Bun and pizzeria Pizza Pilgrims have both gone down the meal-kit route, allowing those in lockdown to recreate their favourites. We all need a dash of escapism and, for many, that means a restaurant.

For some restaurants, the takeaway is a route to survival. “The lockdown came over us as an advancing cloud billowing into view,” says Jackson Boxer, a chef who owns renowned London restaurants Orasay and Brunswick House. Restaurants are unlikely to fully reopen until at least Christmas, so for Boxer there was an obvious imperative to launch a delivery service. “Within a week, we were back in the kitchen hashing out delivery. It was like launching two new businesses with no idea, we had no expectation.”

Orasay, which opened last year, is a high-end restaurant in upmarket Notting Hill, so the menu had to be revamped. The food is now focused on what travels well, such as pot-roast duck legs with red wine and smoked bacon sauce. Often, they are “finished off” at home, but always simply: 10 minutes in the oven, say. The restaurant delivers up to five miles, though people can organise a courier from further afield.

For Boxer, there are several reasons why reopening was necessary. It is still losing money – but less than it could be. Then there’s the supply chain. Without places like Orasay, many fishermen or farmers could go bust. There’s also the sense of ennui that chefs can feel when not working.

Thousands of restaurants across the country, of all stripes, have switched their business models overnight towards takeaway and delivery. Often they barely make enough money to survive, yet still help vulnerable people in their local communities or send free meals to the NHS. And the best thing we can do is to support them, by buying their food.

Bianca Rix, co-owner of The Fox and Hounds, Hertfordshire

‘We have a strong community here’. Bianca and James Rix of the Fox and Hounds in Hertfordshire Credit: Andrew Crowley 

“The children, now 15 and 13, were born in this house. Usually we share the garden with customers, so it’s actually quite nice to have some garden to ourselves. They are helping with deliveries, washing up and taking orders. My husband James is the head chef, and I manage front of house. Our country pub has had a Michelin Bib Gourmand for 10 years, but at the heart of what we do is good food in a nice environment.

It was horrific for the first few days. The worst was the limbo, with people told not to go to pubs and restaurants, but we weren’t officially closed down. We quickly moved to takeaways. It was Mother’s Day weekend, so we tried to transfer our bookings to takeaway. We did about 120 meals that day, so we managed to claw back some of the Mother’s Day trade. It was impossible to offer a full takeaway menu with just us and the kids, so we quickly turned to ready meals. Everything is made by James – pies, lasagnes, soups, homemade pasta, curries, Sunday lunch. Good home cooking, nothing too fancy.

We have a pop-up store on the terrace on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Otherwise, people can call and pre-order to collect, or we’ll deliver in Hunsdon and the next village, Widford. Every week, we give our free meal of the week to the vulnerable and elderly. We let them know at the beginning of the week what it’ll be, then deliver to around 15 people in the village.

It’s nice to give people a break from cooking. People don’t have much time on their hands, they’re working, with kids at home. We’re price-conscious, around £5-6 a meal, balancing affordability with making enough to keep ticking over. We have a strong community here, so we felt that it was right to do something.”

Charlotte Bennett, managing director of Healing Manor Hotel, Lincolnshire

The Healing Manor isolation team

“In February, bookings at the hotel and restaurant began to tail off, as many of our clients fly in for work in the area. We work with a handful of local suppliers in Lincolnshire, one of England’s back gardens, and Grimsby is renowned for its fish. We serve a lot of seasonal dishes like game, and pub classics – fish and chips, steaks and burgers. Initially we weren’t sure about the logistics of takeaways but we quickly decided to move five staff on site, isolating together to keep offering the service. Everyone else has been furloughed.

We operate a safe collection system and we’re lucky to have a large, secluded car park. Customers order food beforehand (we generally sell out a week in advance), and are given a time slot. They turn up, their food is placed on to a table, and we move back. We’ve not yet introduced delivery, but are looking to do so next week.

Fish and chips is the most popular order – we serve about 600 portions on a Friday. People are rebooking week after week. On Sundays it’s roast, which is really popular too, and on other days we serve steaks, burgers, pies and a small brunch menu cooked by my husband Steven, who’s the head chef, and Marc, who is living on-site.

We served free meals to vulnerable locals even before the lockdown, but now that’s been ramped up from about 50 a week to 1,000. We began a #nominateyourneighbour campaign, whereby people can nominate their loved ones or neighbours for a free meal. It’s paid for by fundraising, from individuals and businesses, and we’ve raised over £22k so far. We also provide food parcels for a homeless charity, with essential products and meals like lasagne and fish pie.

There are so many people in need – often they won’t ask for help, that’s one of the main reasons we’re doing this. The other, from an admittedly selfish perspective, is that it keeps us so busy that it distracts us from the reality of Covid-19 and the effect that it’s had on our business.”

Nigel Flatt, owner of Smokey Joe’s American Bar and Grill, Norfolk

Nigel Flatt and family were inspired to serve meals to local hospitals by their daughter, who is a nurse  Credit: David Rose 

“My wife Wendy and I opened the restaurant five years ago. I’m an electrician and builder, so it was a total career change for me. We offer burgers, steaks, ribs, chicken, that sort of stuff. When coronavirus hit we were on holiday in Egypt, so we came home as soon as we could. We had to furlough all the staff bar one chef. My youngest daughter Alice is 15 and her exams were cancelled, so she’s manning the tills. My wife’s delivering the food, and I’m in the kitchen with the chef. I do the boring stuff, like boxing and bagging the food.

Takeaways were never a big part of our business, though we did offer them for some regular customers, so we had all the recyclable bags and containers ready. We’re now doing takeaways and deliveries from Thursday to Sunday. Aside from delivering to customers in a nine-mile radius, we have begun supplying local hospitals with burgers and chips once every two weeks.

It was important to help the NHS because my eldest daghter, Abby, just finished her nursing degree in London and went straight in at the deep end in A&E. She told us people were sending in meals and it was a nice thing to do. If we can afford to do it we should. Three local ladies who have cake-making businesses pitched in to send 100 cakes, brownies, cookies and cheesecakes. In the weeks where we don’t supply hospitals, we ask locals to nominate NHS workers and we cook them and their family a meal. There is also a 10 per cent NHS discount.

Alongside our full menu, we’ve batch-cooked lasagne and chilli and sold them in microwaveable pots – they were popular with care workers who couldn’t get hold of anything when the food shortages were happening. Switching to takeaways has been a lifeline, allowing us to make enough to keep going.”

James Hurn, general manager of Langan’s Tea Rooms, Burton upon Trent

‘It’s worth all the work to keep supporting people’ says James Hurn of Langan's Tea Rooms 

“Langan’s Tea Rooms is a social enterprise set up to help the recovery community, and is part of the O’connor gateway charitable trust and the Burton Addiction Centre. When people graduate from the centre, they can come here to gain new skills and qualifications, either in the kitchen or front of house. This helps them quickly move into the community and to lead productive lives. We are an abstinence-based recovery community, so it’s a safe place and a very supportive environment. We’ve helped around 1,800 so far.

We immediately knew we had to set up a delivery service. We already did catering for parties, so had a van for that side of things. It has been a massive change for everyone, but it’s worth all the hard work to keep supporting people, to give people structure and purpose. Lockdown can be hard for people with an addiction history; the isolation and boredom can be very dangerous.

Customers can call us over the phone to order. We’re offering an all-day breakfast, mains like chicken curry and shepherd’s pie, and we cater for gluten-free and other dietary requirements. We do a portions menu, which is four portions of frozen food such as cottage pie. Afternoon tea is one of our most popular things. We’ve asked people to nominate a nursing home, and we deliver all the afternoon tea elements to residents and staff. We’ve had an overwhelming response, it’s heartwarming. It’s our way of supporting the community in lockdown. They can’t go out or have visitors, so it’s a way of brightening up their day.

We used to have a 10 per cent discount for NHS staff, but since Covid-19 we’ve upped that to 30. They’re working really hard to support the country.”

Alex Clayton, owner of Tasca Dali and Flamenco, Warwick

Alex Clayton, owner of Flamenco and Tasca Dali in Wawrick

“Tasca Dali opened seven years ago. We offer a tasting menu of traditional, unpretentious Spanish food, with produce imported directly from Spain – no shortcuts. Flamenco opened last year, offering a tapas menu in an old Tudor building.

When the pandemic hit my first thought was ‘you gotta keep going’. I’ve always believed you have to improve and adapt – the one constant in life is change. What no one anticipated was the scale of change. We began by offering a range of things – grocery shopping, a 10 per cent discount for NHS staff. But we have also stuck to the tasting menu principle. People still celebrate special occasions and order five-course meals or tapas with wine.

We’ve had to adapt to ensure the food is in optimal condition when it arrives. It might start with a platter of manchego, Spanish charcuterie, a tortilla, different dips and marinated olives. Then there will typically be a stew, maybe lentils, or chorizo with butter beans. The meat dish can be anything from stewed beef to garlic chicken to slow-cooked ox cheek, depending on what I can get, and dessert. We cater for pescatarians, veggies, vegans, too.

The food is cooked by my right-hand man Jorge, who’s been here for seven years. I deliver everything and go as far as Coventry, around a 20-mile radius. This helps keep things personal, and I can make sure everything arrives on time. We’re also offering meal plans – a meal a day for a week, which you can freeze and warm up. One day, a lady called from Hampshire, saying her grandmother lived near Warwick and she wanted to do something nice for her and that she loved sandwiches, so I made some and took those to her. It’s not something I usually do, but I was just helping out, and the lady was very happy.”

Gaijin Sushi, Birmingham

The Birmingham sushi expert is offering a full takeaway menu, including its brilliant sushi sets from £25. For every £10 spent, it will give a meal to NHS staff – more than 1,500 so far.

gaijinsushi.co.uk

Punjab, London

A central London favourite and one of Britain’s oldest Indian restaurants. Full takeaway featuring the classics, including the popular butter chicken (£13.10). The kitchen is also being used as a hub to cook thousands of meals a week for the homeless.

punjab.co.uk

Iberica, Nationwide

With branches in London, Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow, this Spanish mini-chain is offering tapas favourites and more – such as the famous ham croquettes (£7) – to those living near its restaurants.

ibericarestaurants.com

La Petite Bouchée, Devon

This Devon favourite has switched to ready meals, with revolving weekly dishes, such as paella for £7.50 per person. Collection points within a 12-mile radius of the restaurant in Witheridge.

lapetiteboucheetogo.co.uk

The Dog and Partridge, Marchington, Staffordshire

Pub grub and beer are available at this country pub, with special steak nights (from £9.95) on Wednesdays and pizza nights on Saturdays. Beer available for £2.50 a pint.

dogandpartridgemarchington.co.uk

Contini, Edinburgh

Scottish-Italian stalwart Contini has launched a new delivery menu championing Scottish and Italian produce. Three-course meals available from £20, with star dishes like gnocchi alla sorrentina, chicken Milanese and tiramisu.

shop.contini.com

Roots York

From celebrated chef and farmer Tommy Banks, locals in York, Oldstead and Harrogate can order a food box of two three-course ready meals for two people, from £70.

tommybanks.co.uk

Casa Italia, Liverpool

Classics such as spaghetti carbonara and napoletana are available, with free delivery for those who order directly.

thecasaitalia.com