Like all businesses in the hospitality sector, Lancaster fine dining restaurant, Quite Simply French, has been dealt a massive blow by the pandemic. Takeaways were never part of the grand business plan but owner Robert Mason has adapted his recipe for success to sustain the business until he can welcome back his guests in person.
Over the last year, we have heard far too many stories of doom and gloom across the hospitality, leisure and events sector. Which isn’t surprising as venues have now been forced to close their doors to diners three times. So it’s refreshing to hear a story of success against this backdrop of disruption and uncertainty – especially when it comes from one of our clients.
We spoke to Quite Simply French owner, Robert Mason, to learn more about how he managed to make the best of a terrible situation.
Takeaways were never part of the QSF strategy
“Our menu and service levels are geared towards delivering a high-quality, fine dining experience, so takeaway was never part of our strategy,” explains Robert.
“However, in the first lockdown, when the government ordered restaurants to close, we had no choice but to explore takeaway as an option. But for QSF, the numbers just didn’t stack up.
“As it happened, our accounting year-end fell in the middle of the pandemic and I had meetings with Gill and Kay, our advisors at RfM, to discuss the impact on the business and what we could do to get through it.
“Our chefs are highly skilled and very well paid so the Job Retention Scheme offered a lifeline until we could re-open. RfM took care of the furlough claims to ensure my team were paid on time and also advised on the other government support available to us, such as deferring VAT.
“In July, when the restrictions were eased we were able to open again and bring all our chefs back from furlough. However, the rigorous social distancing measures we put in place meant there was a 40% reduction in capacity in the restaurant. Many of our older clientele were also shielding so we decided to look again at takeaway as a way to replace some of the lost income and meet customer demand.”
An exceptional ‘at home’ dining experience
“We launched our new click and collect service, ‘QSF TO GO’ in July 2020 and it remains a key part of our current operating strategy,” continues Robert. “We ramped up the service in November to date and the response has been amazing!
“Even though our customers can’t go out at the moment, they still want to treat themselves and the first week of January was our best takeaway week yet.
“Unlike traditional takeaway, our customers pre-book a time slot when they would like their meal and we prepare it for them to collect and enjoy at home. The service is completely automated, so there is no need to speak to a person or come inside and the food is the same quality as they would expect in the restaurant.
“Whilst the income from takeaways does not nearly cover all the lost revenue from our restaurant and rooms, what it does do is two-fold:
- When we first re-opened, it allowed us to mitigate lost revenues from social distancing requirements (we lost seven tables and had to extend booking times for sanitising and table turnaround).
- During the current lockdown, it allows us to ‘keep the wolves from the door’ and pay our fixed costs which still remain even though our core business is mothballed.
“In summary, QSF TO GO brings in enough business for us to survive this hibernation period for our hotel and restaurant, so to speak.”
Tax incentives for new product development
“We do see ourselves as innovators and that aspect of the business hasn’t stopped because we’re closed. We created special festive takeaway packages and are currently developing our Valentine’s Day offer, as well as exploring Vegan dishes and ways to use more local produce.
“Our new product development activity makes us eligible to claim valuable R&D tax credits. Tony Backhouse at RfM Transform helps us to identify which activities count as R&D and prepares the technical report to secure the claim for tax relief.”
The future of takeaway?
Finally, we asked Robert whether takeaway was now part of the QSF plan for the future.
“Although takeaway wasn’t something we ever planned to do, it has worked out as well as it could given the circumstances.
“We predict that the restaurant won’t get back to operating at full capacity until 2022, so QSF TO GO will be part of the business at least until then.”
RfM Client Relationship Manager, Kay Lee, hopes other businesses will be inspired by what Robert and his team have achieved with QSF TO GO, against the odds. “No matter how traditional and grounded a business is, if the owner is ready to tackle challenges head-on and make drastic changes, what a difference this can make to turning things around even in the most difficult of times,” says Kay. “Rob and the whole team at QSF are inspiring, motivating and show just what can be done when you think outside the box.”
Share your stories with us
We’d love to hear your stories of success despite the barriers created by the coronavirus restrictions and share them with our clients and followers. To share your news and achievements, please email Alison Arthington or call 01772 431233.