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Chippies rethink their businesses

As the coronavirus crisis continues, fish and chips shops are adapting their business models, operating as click and collect and delivery outlets, changing operating hours, running reduced menus and limiting the number of meals served.

VC Jones in Whitstable, Kent, closed its takeaway on 22nd March - ahead of government advice to do so - and moved solely to deliveries. It’s the first major change the business has made in 58 years.

Co-owner Matt Jones comments: “This is something my family have been doing for almost 60 years so it meant changing the business overnight. I could see how things were developing in other countries so we looked at ways we could safely do delivery and we started a new business up pretty much.

“For us, it would have been easier to pull the drawbridge up and sit it out but I felt really strongly that doing delivery was going to help people, customers and a couple of members of staff who we could pay. It was mainly to give that bit of normality in a situation that isn’t normal.

“When customers hear Jones is still open, even though it’s a different format, it’s like a comfort for a lot of them.

“We’re nowhere near as busy as when we’re open and it’s a different dynamic, it's condensed into fewer hours, but that’s the reality now.”

Lowford Fish Bar in Bursledon, Southampton, has made changes too, temporarily closing at lunchtimes and opening evenings only for non-contact deliveries and pre-order collections. It has also extended its deliveries from four days a week to six.

Owner Karen Whitlock says: “Last week, on Friday and Saturday we saw an increase of three times the amount of our normal deliveries for those days. In general, we have been much busier than normal.

“We have numerous signage up at the shop and all customers are respecting the regulations put in place. Customers are entering just one person once we have notification them that their order is ready for collection. We’ve always maintained high cleaning standards, however now they are even higher with surfaces, door handles and card machine being sanitised between each customer entering.”

An online donations fund has also been set up for customers to give anywhere between 50p and £5 to help feed key workers. In the first four days of going live, £60 was collected which enabled staff to cook and deliver fish and chips to its local doctors surgery, pharmacy, ambulance station and police station.

A growing number of shops are operating for limited periods with set numbers of meals available to preorder. The Chip Shed, which has three shops in Warwick, Minchinhampton and Bourton, is taking online pre-orders for delivery tomorrow between 5pm and 8pm. Catch is running a similar service from its Netherlee and West End branches in Glasgow with 200 portions of haddock and chips available to order until tomorrow for delivery between 3pm and 10pm this Saturday.

While some shops have remained open, many have closed altogether and are using the time to reassess. Fish Kitchen 1854 in Caerphilly, South Wales, for example, was in the process of introducing phone orders for click and collect and delivery when owner Lee Humphreys decided to close.

Lee comments: “Everything moved so quickly and I decided that even if I were to do click and collect I couldn’t safeguard my staff. Their health and well-being goes above anything else, so I knew I had to close.

“We’re trying to use this time as positively as we can to develop the business and hopefully we’ll come out of the other side stronger. We’re already in talks to develop an online platform and in time we’ll recruit some delivery drivers. It was something that was on our development plan before this happened, but this has focussed the mind.”

Although unsure when he’ll reopen, Lee plans to review the situation in two weeks, adding: “No-one knows what things are going to be like in two or three weeks, but the day we do get back open, serving our community, will be an unbelievable day.”

It’s not just shops that are making changes. Fish and chip shop supplier Friars Pride is offering a Call & Collect service instead of delivering directly into shops, while mobile van manufacturer Pro Fry has adapted the design of its vehicles to include several safety features, including perspex screens across the counter to protect staff. These feature a gap for food to be passed through as well as a slot for cash.

Pro Fry owner Paul Newbold explains: “Our advice is to take cards where possible but where this isn’t, operators should round monies up and not give change. So if your fish and chips are £6.75 and you’re given £7 then you keep the change, it gets paid into the slot that goes straight into a plastic container so there is no handling of cash. The money is put into a plastic container and left for 48 hours then decontaminated before re-circulating or banking.

“Everyone needs to change their total outlook on life. Coronavirus isn’t going away, we’re going to be living with this for the next 18 months to two years so we’ve got to learn to work differently.”

Estimating that over half of the vans it has manufactured are still on the road trading, Paul adds: “The government said to everybody before this kicked off ‘do not panic buy, there is enough go around’. That didn’t happen and now there are customers, many elderly and vulnerable, that can’t get everything they need. Our vans are serving a community that is providing an essential service.”

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