The founder, chef and wine buyer at Flour & Grape in London's Bermondsey talks to Katherine Price about pivoting to home delivery and what support the industry needs in the coming months.
Did you have to make any changes to your business model during lockdown?
We had been planning to launch our Flour & Grape At Home concept for quite some time prior to lockdown. However, with things being perpetually busy, we didn't have the proper time and space to dedicate to the project until we were forced to shut in March.
I didn't want Flour & Grape At Home to be merely a stopgap while we were closed, and I particularly wanted favourites, such as our much-loved pork tortelloni, to arrive in the right condition – filled pasta has a tendency to absorb moisture when in an enclosed container, resulting in an inferior product.
After months of experimenting, I developed bespoke packaging, which allows ingredients to be delivered without compromising on taste. Now we have perfected the process, home delivery is certainly here for the long haul.
Did lockdown change the way you approach your business?
No, not really. I feel that our concept pre-lockdown is still very well-suited to the new normal. We haven't changed our prices and still use the WalkUp app as opposed to traditional reservations, which has proved very popular.
What has changed, of course, is the enhanced standards and training required for us to reopen and having to adjust to the new earlier closing times, but we very quickly got into the swing of things. We have a great team behind us, which has helped massively.
Has the restaurant picked up since reopening?
Absolutely, although it's still almost impossible to predict where the peaks and troughs will fall with so many variables in play. Additionally, with people still not returning to offices, weekday lunch trade has been hugely affected.
Did you make use of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme?
We did, but only on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. I felt it was really important not to over-work our staff as the team has been reduced, so we stayed closed on Mondays. EOTHO was a fantastic initiative, but unlike some others in the industry, we couldn't extend it at our own expense. We pride ourselves in offering a great product at a great price all year round.
Do you think more needs to be done to ensure the restaurant industry survives?
I think a lot has already been done by the government and we really appreciate it. Assuming there isn't a second lockdown, there comes a time to start returning to ‘normal', in running a sustainable business for the long term.
However, the 10pm curfew has really affected business. If we have to stop serving food and drink at 10pm, so be it, but why not let people remain to finish their meal, rather than turf everyone out at the same time onto the streets and public transport?
I also think now is the time for landlords to really step up and play their part to support the longevity of the restaurant industry. It's heart-breaking to see so many places already having to shut their doors due to high rents and crushing revenue share agreements.
Now is the time for landlords to really step up and play their part to support the longevity of the restaurant industry
Do London hospitality businesses need extra help at the moment?
It's good to see the VAT reduction has been extended to help businesses through the typically quieter winter months. The business rates holiday could be extended too, so places have a chance to get back on their feet after an atrocious 2020.
I'm struggling to see how the new Job Support Scheme will actually support small businesses – I feel it potentially causes more issues than it intends to solve.
How are you ensuring staff and guests feel safe and welcomed?
Some people are still not comfortable returning to a restaurant and this is where the Flour & Grape At Home offering can step in.
As for the restaurant, we made sure we were in regular contact with our team, listened to any concerns and made accommodations where possible
We wanted to retain as much of the welcoming atmosphere that hospitality is all about but, of course, we have made the necessary changes recommended in the government guidance. We've also tried to pay attention to the aesthetics of how the guidance has been implemented.
Are you looking to expand?
If things continue to improve, then I would like to think about a second site – not a carbon copy, but with a similar atmosphere and ethos to Flour & Grape.
In terms of our Flour & Grape At Home concept, we would love to be able to extend this beyond the current five-mile radius, but it's difficult when services that may be able to help us do this often charge a significant commission. It's definitely something we're looking into though.
You need to create an account to read this article. It's free and only requires a few basic details.
Already subscribed? Log In