Stephen Hobbs, Chairman of the Foodservice Equipment Association (FEA)
Stephen Hobbs, Director of Grande Cuisine and Chairman of the Foodservice Equipment Association (FEA), shares his thoughts on the evolution of the foodservice delivery market and what it means for the future of kitchen design.
Is foodservice delivery here to stay?
It’s interesting how a lot of places now see delivery as part of their offer going forward. I think if you’d asked anybody three years ago about doing a food delivery offer, they wouldn’t necessarily have put it at the top of their priority list because they think why would I want to provide my high-quality food so somebody who can eat at home and then not necessarily drink my wine and enjoy my hospitality? Whereas now I think a lot of operators do very much see it as a supplementary offer that has brought value to their business.
What proportion of operators are now offering delivery or collection alongside traditional dine-in service?
I would estimate 75-80% of operators are now considering it. Not necessarily the higher end - although they got into doing food boxes at home, many have stopped now. But for those in the mid-market casual dining sector, I would think 75-80% of them are now doing some form of food collection or eat out option that they didn’t have before. It’s going to become more and more expensive for operators to run restaurants because of living wage, food costs and staffing issues, so it will get more expensive to eat out. The high end will always be there but I think the only way the mass casual dining market is going to survive is by providing that at-home service to supplement what it’s not getting in its restaurants.
Will operators need to make changes to their kitchens?
It depends on the space they’ve got, because ultimately that kitchen will not have been designed for delivery food to be collected from. Are we accepting that we’re going to have people standing around in the restaurant with insulated bags or do we create a separate point in the kitchen for food to be collected? You could have delivery drivers come to the back door but the back door is designed to have fresh food coming in and waste food going out. It’s not designed to have prepared food leaving and inevitably the back door of the kitchen is located near to the potwash and dishwash, which is the furthest point from the hot pass. One site Grande Cuisine did some work on was lucky enough to have a couple of entrance and exit points in and out of their kitchen area, so they created a new point of entry and exit just for delivery drivers because they didn’t want them standing around in the reception area waiting for food to be brought up from the kitchen.
Will it mean changes in restaurant kitchen design in the future?
New kitchens will have that as part of their thought process. One of Grande Cuisine’s clients, the plant-based burger chain Neat Burger, has seen a big uptake on delivery services and in their newer restaurants they’ve actually created a separate pass bench just for delivery service. So although the way that they are set up in the kitchen hasn’t changed, they now have a separate collection point within the kitchen for that service. I’m seeing more and more operators thinking about that and when you’re doing a kitchen design now, it’s not just the traditional cookline and waiter service from the hot pass, there is now a separate area where food is being bagged up and put in insulated boxes ready for Uber Eats or Deliveroo or Just Eat to collect it.
How do you see the sector evolving?
I see an evolution of dark kitchens happening where ultimately operators will have fewer facilities where they operate a sit-down restaurant. You’ll always have the dine-in aspect but the kitchen spaces they do that from will inevitably become smaller because of the cost of rates, rent and staff to run it. Take a restaurant group, for instance, that has different brands. Whereas they would have had brands ABCDE & F with outlets all within about a 5-mile radius, potentially you’ll end up with that group having brand A & B restaurants but still offering CDE & F as a delivery option from a dark kitchen. Putting a dark kitchen on an industrial estate somewhere in East London is considerably less expensive that having a great big restaurant with huge rates and rents on it because it’s in a retail park. You’ll have entrepreneurial business owners who will build a dark kitchen and then say to independent restaurants or chains, why don’t you use my facilities. It wouldn’t necessarily have to be the brand itself doing the cooking. Ultimately, the diner really doesn’t care who cooked it as long as it’s got the branding and the quality associated with that brand in the product that’s delivered.