Last weekend saw the formal launch of Digbeth Diner Click and Collect service; a concept developed with NCASS to enable food businesses to trade safely during Covid-19.
Digbeth Dining Club (DDC) is one of the UK’s biggest street food events and when the Covid crisis started, mobile catering stopped as did DDC. The need for businesses to find a way to trade safely and earn a living, however, did not. It became more and more apparent that many within the independent sector, including Street Food, wouldn’t be able to access the support they needed via the Government measures. With rent and bills to pay and families to support, there would be no choice but to adapt and carry on.
The solution for DDC could have been one of many options including collection, delivery, cook or heat at home kits and others. It would have to bring together their traders and put the Street Food event back on the map, making use of its significant mailing list and reputation to increase viability.
The only viable way to get DDC back up and running was through ‘take away,’ but that method comes with risks; the fact that a visible line of people would be stood waiting to collect food is just one of them. The question was, how do you overcome the issues around safety and still sell food?
It was on a call between NCASS’ Mark, DDC’s Jack and colleague James that the collective idea of a ‘drive thru- method leapt out at them, but somehow they assumed it wouldn’t work; businesses were getting panned in the press at the time for opening at all due to fear, but food scarcity and access to food were problems in the wider population. They thought putting out ‘hipster food’ might come across as crass in such conditions and so it sat on the back burner. It wasn’t until they spoke to Slow Food Birmingham that everything changed…
Slow Food UK, a not for profit organisation dedicated to supporting, promoting, and increasing access to good quality food, approached NCASS after a meeting with local charities delivering the Covid-19 Resilience Hubs across the West Midlands. They were running a veg box service supporting local producers and the community but were running out of space to run the service, so it seemed like a perfect springboard for the new DDC concept.
“Meeting Kate from Slow Food was a joy, we just talked about the food sector and the problems Covid had created or exposed and the problems within hospitality. The guiding principles of Slow Food share many similarities with the best of street food and NCASS. Exciting, disruptive, challenging but based in quality and a love of food and independence. It felt like the perfect fit.” (Mark Laurie, NCASS)
The addition of Slow Food UK meant that customers would not be making unnecessary journeys if they were buying groceries (in this case the veg boxes from Slow Food), customers wouldn’t have to queue outside takeaways or supermarkets, and businesses could continue to trade and profit from the groceries along with options to ‘pay forward’. The idea would allow Slow Food and DDC to support the work of the resilience hub by providing funding and food direct to them.
Fortunately, DDC’s new venue had received the necessary licences to operate as a food establishment, and as such, they decided that simply picking up orders from their warehouse was the best way to go. The lack of residential housing around the venue was a bonus as locals would not be inconvenienced and by opening in the evenings and weekends, local businesses would not face disruption.
Click and collect
There was still the ‘takeaway’ box to tick, but operating as a click and collect ‘drive thru’ however, meant that safety, social distancing and off-site eating could work perfectly. DDC could manage the number of portions sold per hour and also allocate time slots for collection, which meant that long queues of cars could be avoided and the workload could be spread through the day, preventing peaks that could lead to the system falling apart. It meant no walk ups and no cash or card payments – people could order what they wanted, at a convenient time and come and collect it with minimum fuss. As well as this and importantly, the traders would be aware of their sales prior to trading – waste and over staffing would be avoided, thereby limiting risk and maximising profit.
It was the Click & Collect element of the concept that was key here – customers would simply arrive at the venue at their time slot, if they were early they would wait in their cars, if they were on time they would show the order to the door staff and join a socially distanced ‘Disney line’. The food would be waiting for them on a table 4 meters from the caterers which would always be brought to the tables by runners, thereby maintaining social distancing and staying safe.
One major concern was traffic management and making sure the authorities were aware of the plans. The quiet location and access to a carpark on site meant that the flow of traffic could be managed more effectively. In addition to this, the time slots method would mean that a maximum number of vehicles of people would be expected every half hour, rather than the long queues reported when some fast food drive thru’s re-opened.
With four traders and a grocer onsite, orders from multiple traders would leave customers with fresh hot food from one business while their other food went cold. Working with businesses capable of knocking out volume, consistently and in harmony with their fellow traders remains a challenge but traders who could work together, plus the right tech would prove to facilitate greater efficiencies over time.
Working with Local Authorities
When they shared the concept and plans with both local and national government, they were extremely supportive of the project. The team were surprised at how many local officials said they were glad DDC was back – the team communicated their intentions and got a provisional thumbs up. Fortunately, much of the licensing and paperwork was already in place and just needed tweaking, with further risk assessments, training and systems in place to ensure the venue was safe, remained safe and everyone knew the risks and their responsibilities.
“When I arrived on the soft launch night and saw two police cars, I must admit I panicked – had the message not got through? Had someone made a mistake that had resulted in the authorities being called? Had we messed up? I called Jack and he said, “can’t talk, I’m dealing with the police, meet me by the exit.” My heart sank…I wondered whether he wanted me to keep the car running. A minute later he arrived with a big box. The police had ordered 13 burgers.” (Mark, NCASS)
The whole reason behind the drive thru concept was Covid-19 safety and that remains paramount. Therefore, DDC made it clear that strict Covid-19 controls would be put in place. From extensive and regular cleaning, hand wash stations and glove change sites for food runners, through to limiting the people attending at any one time slot, all of these things contributed to reducing the risk of people being exposed unnecessarily. The traders would be separated from customers and would place the food on tables where it would be whisked off to the table for customers to collect. On top of this, all DDC traders are NCASS members and had completed the NCASS Covid-19 Controls guidance documents, including risk assessments and training, thereby adapting their businesses to assure safe systems and delivery.
The success or failure of this concept would depend on the right technology. Essentially, this would be a POS system that sells the food, orders the time slots, informs the caterers and the event of when each order is expected (DDC worked with their ticketing provider to pull together a system)
Cars stop loitering
One phrase heard over and over again when speaking to local government staff, EHO’s, licensing officers and so on, was loitering. Takeaways have the potential to enable loitering. Hot food businesses had been banned from markets in London because of the potential for loitering. Roadside trailers had been pulled up by police for customers potentially breaking social distancing and encouraging loitering. The thought that once people had bought their food, they would then stand around eating it was the concern of the authorities and some enforcement and police officers and so, many clearly felt that it would be safer to prevent mobile businesses from opening in order to eliminate the potential risk of spreading the virus. However, by enabling customers to collect their food in boxes on wheels rather than on foot, they could be sent away from the venue without loitering. This was the thought that underpinned the DDC Click & Collect and re-assured everyone that the concept was safe.
Doing It Yourself
Setting up as a click and collect drive thru will be a lot easier for some than others. Because of the logistics and organisation of this concept, it lends itself towards existing event and food market professionals rather than stand-alone traders with no experience in the practicalities of working with customers and a site in this way There are several challenges you at will need to overcome, from working with authorities, to developing the correct systems and infrastructure to ensure food can be prepared and collected safely. However, we at NCASS believe a click and collect drive through service can be delivered safely* and we can all get back to supporting independents and enjoying the Street Food we know and love again.
- Do you have a large enough space to operate a click and collect drive thru?
- Is it public or private land?
- Is it in a residential area?
- Do you need any temporary infrastructure?
- Do you have the necessary licenses?
- Are you able to speak to the relevant authorities?
- Can you produce all the necessary documentation? E.g. RAMS, Site Plan, Management Plan, etc.
- Do you have the right team with the right experience? E.g. site management, traffic management, etc.
- Do you have access to traders who are NCASS members* and are Covid-19 Compliant or can prove that they have Covid-19 Controls in place?
- Can you use the NCASS Connect system* to ensure best practice in food and health & safety?
- Do you have access to suitable POS tech?
*How NCASS can help:
Finding the right caterers has never been easier. With over 6,000 members, many of them are currently available for work and NCASS will help you to find exactly what you’re looking for, all for free via their Find A Caterer services.
The NCASS Connect system enables event organisers and local authorities to view trader profiles and documents, source and procure traders and manage the myriad due diligence paperwork. Included will be the new Covid-19 Compliance Documentation exclusive to NCASS members.
NCASS can put you in touch with the safest and best caterers across the UK – all for free.