Tuesday 2 June 2020 6:00 am

Survive and thrive: Pilgrims get a pizza the delivery action

London’s businesses have been forced to weather a storm they never saw coming, but many have pivoted to new ways of doing business. Today, Thom Elliot – co-founder of Pizza Pilgrims – writes for City A.M. on how one of the capital’s favourite small chains responded to the crisis and the challenges to come

Covid-19 presented a huge obstacle to the hospitality sector, one that no one knew or indeed knows how to navigate. As a business, ‘eating in’ remains at the heart of any restaurant’s offering, and to have this stripped away has made it impossible for many to operate.

From our perspective, we swiftly pivoted our model and mitigated this through our ‘pizza by post’, a full kit for diners to recreate the dish they know and love from the comfort of their own homes. The success of this skyrocketed and surpassed expectations, with over 20,000 pizzas being sent to homes across the nation. 

Read more: Back to the grindstone for coffee brand during pandemic pivot

Whilst an immediate, creative solution, waiting on the go ahead to re-open the doors remained and still remains, a top priority. In the short-term, we, and hospitality businesses alike will need to acknowledge that normal can’t be switched back on, and we’ll need to be agile and turn to new ideas in order to begin trading again.

If the scene is still set that businesses can only open if maintaining a two metres distance, this would slice the capacity of most restaurants in half, leaving no feasible way to open. Likewise serving pizzas with masks and gloves and providing an overly sterile environment does not comply with our ethos, bringing us back to square one. 

Covid-19 has been evidently disastrous for the sector, but it also has opened up unexpected doors, ones that may have been overlooked. The sheer vastness of London’s outdoor spaces has only been highlighted once humanity retreated to their homes, leaving the huge spaces abandoned.

It’s now that businesses can capitalise in the short term on this outdoor space and bring their offering to the outdoors, appealing to the agile, and businesses who can adapt quickly. We only have to look at Southbank to see how a space like this can transform into a cultural hub. Whilst this is a short-term fix and weather dependent, filling that gap this summer could be just what businesses need before we look ahead at a longer, more permanent solution. 

When we do look at opening long-term, we seek to be reassured that consumer demand for eating out remains. A study by Nielsen, shows that 53% of customers report that they plan to eat out the same or more often than they did prior to the outbreak. A promising stat to work on. 

Hygiene remains at the forefront of ensuring diners feel comfortable returning to restaurants, and it’s about striking a balance between feeling safe and trying to relive the dining experience that we once knew. Just under half of consumers (49%) said that they would like to see additional hygiene safeguards put into play.

In these extraordinary times, this is an absolutely must, but good hygiene is already solidly embedded into restaurant culture and is ingrained in every single manoeuvre throughout our company. Therefore, adding these changes are completely necessary, but not unobtainable as the groundwork is very much solidly put in place. Long-term it will be about bringing customers back, making them feel comfortable. 

Whilst this is a variable that we can control, many extraneous factors we can’t, such as tourism. As much as we rely on Londoner’s custom, those visiting contribute to a vital part our revenue stream, so it’s also about finding further ways to engage with Londoners and work with them to create the new normal dining experience. 

Plainly, how restaurants are going to be received is still unknown, and it’s obvious that we cannot resume business as it was before. However, with a positive view that customers will return to relive the dining experience, hospitality businesses are going to have to be agile and adapt accordingly and the term ‘business as usual’ will have to adopt a whole new meaning too.