UK Restauranteurs and Food Couriers Continue to Face Adversity in the Face of Coronavirus

It has been over 9 weeks since Boris Johnson battened down the hatches and sent the United Kingdom into a state of lockdown in attempt to control the spread of the coronavirus. However the pandemic continues to prove that it will spare no expense in it’s ability to disrupt the lives of the everyday Briton, including restauranteurs and food delivery app workers who now find themselves scrambling to survive in a new, corona-induced reality.

The coronavirus has seen the permanent closure of both prominent, easy-access and small, independently owned restaurants across the nation.

The largely London based sandwich chain Eat closed all of its 90 locations after 24 years of service. The Restaurant Group, who collectively owns multiple restaurant establishments across the UK, has had to close all 60 Chiquito locations in the country after suffering an alleged 12.5 percent loss in the two weeks following the coronavirus induced lockdown according to Mirror Online.

Chiquito provided delivery service with Uber Eats and the restaurant’s closure affected over 1,500 jobs. The Restaurant Group also made the decision to close all of its 11 Food & Fuel pubs, all of which are located in Central and West London.

Ahi Poke is another chain that has had to deal with adjusting to the current reality. The California-themed restaurant chain opened in 2016 with its first location in Fitzrovia in central London and since opening has opened five more locations, a majority of which are within the English capital. Ahi Poke has relied on Deliveroo as a delivery courier prior to and during the coronavirus pandemic.

Jeremy Coste, a French native, is one of three co-founders of the BVC Group that owns Ahi Poke. The coronavirus continues to present challenges for Coste, who is still adjusting and adapting,

Some of Ahi Poké’s featured dishes from their Facebook page.

“No one could have saw this coming. We handled it as best we could, but no one had a plan for something like this,” he said. “I may not always be in the front when I’m at work, but it gets tough coming into work knowing that you won’t be able to talk to customers, see your hard work pay off.”

Coste said that all six Ahi Poke locations are doing well despite the times, with a consistent stream of orders – Coste’s “Large Bowl” from Ahi Poke London was the 90th most ordered item on Deliveroo in 2019. But according to the UK government, upwards of 30,000 restaurants are not expected to reopen after the coronavirus pandemic has passed.

With a large number of restaurants still closed, food delivery apps are struggling to generate enough delivery orders from potential customers which has resulted in workers on the ground not being able to deliver enough food to make an adequate wage.

When the UK went into a state of lockdown on March 23, the wide assumption was that with restaurants and bars shifting to online platforms, the usage rate of food delivery apps would rise in response to customers supplementing eating out by instead ordering in. And that it did, initially. Deliveries were up 20 percent during the week of March 22, according to Kantar.

With contactless delivery being introduced and certain apps eliminating delivery fees, the UK food delivery sector was expecting to receive a boost on top of the 11 percent growth that the industry has experienced during 2020 prior to the interruption from the coronavirus, according to Statista, an online data collector. The reality of what is actually being experienced by food delivery app workers is far different from original estimations.

Data sourced from Statista

Greg Howard is one of 26,000 couriers who works on behalf of Deliveroo, a London based food delivery app that as of 2019, provides service in approximately 200 locations across the UK.

A former barista, Howard left coffee culture behind, and instead now pedals his way through the streets of Nottingham on his bicycle, maneuvering his way through traffic, donning the Deliveroo backpack on his back.

He has experienced first-hand his workload shrink due to the lack of orders during the coronavirus.

“It is frustrating,” Howard said. “This kind of work demands a certain physical labour and is dangerous to a certain degree, and compared to last year, I’m making significantly less.”

In response to the diminishing workload, Deliveroo increased the number of available restaurants on the app that customers can select to order from.

However, according to an article published by the Guardian, former Uber drivers, also struggling with a lack of work, have taken on being food couriers and have raised the level of competition within the profession amongst fellow delivery app workers. The drop-off in take out orders has also been linked to the current lack of disposal income for potential customers, as well as an increase of home cooking and thus the lack of need for takeout.

Because food courier workers in the UK are deemed to be self-employed contractors, they are not eligible for government issued sick pay allowances. Deliveroo announced in late March that it would introduce a hardship program so that workers could be compensated financially if they were forced to miss work due to illness or forced isolation.

Howard, who had suspected of contracting the coronavirus in late April, claims he has yet to see a dollar from his employer’s relief fund.

“They made promises to us of financial compensation if we were to get sick and were unable to work,” he explained, “They haven’t followed through on those promises and for some, that lost week of work can put them in a financial jam.”

Certain food couriers across the UK have also claimed that they have been making as little as £4.00 for a day’s work and as little as £76.00 a week.

“I totally get where the guy’s coming from,” Coste added when discussing Howard’s predicament and the state of the Deliveroo worker. “We use Deliveroo. Without the people who deliver the food for us, I’d have to think it’d be much harder for us.”

Deliveroo’s importance is not to be understated. The company claims to have contributed over £1 billion to the UK economy, and is ranked within the top three most popular food delivery apps in the UK.

Data sourced from Statista