Restrictions on takeaways came into play last weekend. Here, Julia Bryce finds out how two Aberdeen businesses have diversified to stay open…
Changes have once again been made to the hospitality sector with the most recent restrictions, which came into place last Saturday, affecting takeaway services.
Now no longer permitted to collect food takeaways or coffee indoors, customers who want to collect their food and drinks must now pick their items up either via a hatch or at the doorway of the premises.
While delivery can still operate as before, these new restrictions have put a bigger strain on the industry.
But where there’s a will, there’s a way, and various firms across the area have been beavering away to ensure their businesses are operational, but most importantly, safe, for customers looking to stretch their legs and grab a bite to eat on the move.
Out the windows
One Aberdeen businesswoman continuing to think on her feet is Kirsty Moncrieff, owner of the popular venue Parx Cafe.
Now operating her business out of the windows of the basement premises on Rubislaw Terrace, Kirsty had already run the “McParx” system for a few days around the time of the first lockdown being introduced back in March 2020, but has now put it to good practice.
She said: “You have to adapt, don’t you? We actually did this back in March last year. We got to do it for a few days ahead of the first full national lockdown and opened up the window to serve customers from before we had to close. This time around we thought, ‘well, let’s just go out of the window again’.
“It is really good having the two windows as they act as two points – one for ordering and one for picking up. It’s the perfect arrangement to be honest. As it is a basement venue it can be a little bit tricky with space. We can have three people socially distancing at two metres in the basement area and everyone else queues along the street. Thankfully Rubislaw isn’t busy at the moment.”
Systems in place
Ensuring safety comes first, Kirsty has strict social distancing rules in place and says staff are constantly keeping an eye on customers, who she adds, have been brilliant in adapting to the changing regulations.
“You come down the stairs, order at the first window, we take your payment running back and forth to the till and then you collect your food and drink from the collection window when it is ready.
“Saturday was the first day we did it. It was really busy and there was a consistent queue of eight to 10 people. It ended up being halfway down the road so I was running back and forth getting orders so we could keep on top of things. My steps are definitely going up.”
A sense of community
Running a reduced menu with limited staff, Kirsty and her team have continued to offer up a range of dishes, as well as selling a few essential items and heat and eat at home dinners, too.
And with regular customers loving the new set up, she is hopeful they will be able to remain open.
“The customers are loving it. Back in March we called it McParx – but we haven’t done that this time. It slows us down a lot and obviously there’s not as many people out and about as much, as of course, they shouldn’t be, but it works really well for the levels of staffing we have on.
“Most of the customers are just really looking for someone to speak to be honest. I was really struggling with whether or not I should be open. Last week I had two different sets of customers crying to me saying this was the only contact they have with anyone. Even if it is just coming down to have a chat for a few minutes, it makes a massive difference to their life and their mental health.
“Most of our regulars, we know them by name and their orders, and it is nice we can still be there for them.”
The need for an app
Looking to innovate further, Kirsty is in the process of launching a web store and hopes to create a click and collect service which will be operated online.
She added: “We’re offering a Burns Supper this Friday, Saturday and Monday and I’ve set up an online shop for that. The orders have gone ballistic for it.
“Once I have got that out of the way I’m going to look more into that and even look at getting an app. Just now you can phone up and place an order, too, as well as order at the window.”
Celebrating its fifth year in business this month, owner Lee Brandie, knew he had to do something to continue to remain open, but something that would keep his customers and staff safe at the same time.
He said: “Initially we were allowing people to come into a square metre inside to pick up stuff, but with the new regulations coming into play we have built a station which is like a window drive-thru almost.
“We got it made to the scale of the door with a hatch on it – it protects all of our staff and allows us to continue to operate. We’ve also reduced the collection slots too so we’re almost down 20%. We have two collections per 10 minutes and that seems to be working well.
“Our business now is 90% delivery or taco van and around 10% collections. The taco van has been a Godsend – everyone is loving it. I really enjoy that people are genuinely excited to see you and it is a great community thing.”
Watch Allan Smith and the team at Luxous bring the Muchacho station to life
Taking a matter of days to come up with the design for his new station, manufacture it and install it, collaborating with another local business allowed Lee to open his venue safely for both customers and staff last Saturday.
He added: “It was announced in parliament on the Wednesday that the changes would more than likely be coming, but the announcement officially came on Thursday. On the Wednesday we got in touch with Allan Smith from Luxous and he turned the whole thing around very quickly.
“He came up with the design and manufactured the whole thing in a matter of days. We had it up and installed ready for opening time on Saturday, too, which was great.
“It must be a bit obscure for customers but I think people now just expect to see companies and restaurants adapt. They know they have to create new things like the station we’ve added to keep adapting to new rules.
“It keeps us all safe; the customers, the staff, and the delivery drivers, so it is a great addition in my opinion and allows us to keep our doors open and customers happy.”