Following the UK government’s lockdown announcement on March 20th, many restaurant owners faced an important decision: to either close for the foreseeable future or find a way to keep operating through delivery or click and collect. For Hulya and Mark, the husband and wife team behind the modern Turkish neighbourhood restaurants Tabure and Tahini, shutting up shop in the wake of COVID-19 was not an option.
Adapting quickly to change
Whilst Tahini, in Harpenden, already offered click and collect, St Albans-based Tabure had always operated as a dine-in restaurant, allowing guests to fully experience the very best of Turkish cuisine with friends and family within the establishment’s modern and stylish surroundings. When COVID-19 closed the UK’s highstreets, Hulya and Mark knew they had to adapt and act quickly, not only to protect the future of the restaurant, but to protect their staff, suppliers and partners as well.
“We knew we had to adapt and adapt quickly, the alternative was just not an option,” explains Mark. “We were already operating a very successful click and collect service with our Tahini site and knew, with a bit of planning, we could take what we had there and copy it over to Tabure.
“When this crisis hit, I was receiving email after email about restaurants and businesses within the area, telling their customers that sadly, they were closing their doors. We wanted to take a different stance. We were determined to fight, making sure that when this was all over, Tabure would be in a strong position to re-open to dine-in as well as continue with online ordering. We were also getting a lot of requests from our customers for online ordering so for us, it was a no-brainer.
“Tabure now takes orders online and, for the time being, we’re offering delivery only. Safety is, of course, our top concern so whilst the country is on lockdown we’ll deliver to our customers until it’s safer for them to leave the house or until they’re less worried about getting out.”
On managing staffing challenges
“Like restaurants and other businesses up and down the country, we’ve had to think very carefully about the people that work at Tabure. Understandably, when the COVID crises grew more serious, a number of our staff returned home to lockdown with families. And although the government’s furlough scheme offers some support, we knew it was important to keep those keen to work, in work – and to do it safely.
“By keeping Tabure running through online orders, we’ve been fortunate to be able to keep on those that can prepare food and help from a logistical perspective such as organise and drive to help deliver our meals.”
Innovation in a time of need for the community
“We’ve had an incredible response to our online ordering. Mother’s Day for example was extremely busy. For our sister site, Tahini, we actually took our highest gross takings that day, all from orders for delivery. Usually, for both Tabure and Tahini, we would have been booked out but obviously, due to restrictions dining in wasn’t possible. It has been fantastic to see onsite bookings translate to online orders.
“One of the biggest advantages of being a neighbourhood restaurant is the extremely close relationships we have within the community. We knew some of our customers were really beginning to struggle to get some of the basic things they need as supermarkets began to run low on necessities. We had to help, and thanks to the flexibility of our online ordering tech, we’ve been able to add items such as toilet roll onto our menu! It sounds unorthodox, but the response from our customers has been very positive. They’re able to not just get their meals delivered but some essential items as well, which helps our more at-risk customers to stay at home.
“We’ve been thinking about other ways to support our community too. For example, our baker makes the most delicious artisan pita bread but was on the verge of closing shop and having to let go of his bakers. Our customers have always raved about his bread which he par bakes and we finish to order. We tried offering his par-baked pita in packs of five to customers online to go with their orders and requests for it just skyrocketed beyond all expectation. We’ve just put in an order to our baker for 1,000 pita breads for next Friday. We’re delighted our customers are happy and enjoying his bread but even more so that we’re able to support another business in this time of great uncertainty.”
“We are also looking to post a video about how to make Turkish coffee. Our partners Ozerlat, were selling their premium coffee in places like Harrods and Fortnum & Mason. We are offering their coffee with the cezve (used to boil the coffee in) and a set of two Turkish coffee cups and saucers. It’s just a way of offering something for people to try at home that’s certainly a bit different but also that connects them with their fonder memories of dining in at Tabure or reminds them of a trip they once had to Turkey. It’s a way of fostering some positivity whilst generating sales at the same time and keeping everyone from our suppliers, customers and business ticking along just a little.”
Advice for other restaurant owners
“My biggest advice is to start planning now. Be proactive and act. It may seem overwhelming just now but think about the business not just during his time of lockdown but what happens when restrictions are eased, and this phase is over. Start thinking and planning for how you will open again, what staff have you kept on, what staff you will need for example.
“We’ve even started thinking about delivering vegetable boxes and planning our Christmas hampers. If you don’t evolve and adapt and consider how to push the business forward throughout this year, you’ll be behind the curve when things start to pick up again. If you have the means to do so, re-consider any projects you’ve not had time to pay attention to until now. For example, technology implementations or fitting out your premises.
“It’s important to remember that it’s not just the industry that has changed for the long-term, people and our customers will have been changed by this experience too. Restaurants will need to be flexible and inventive if they want to be successful post-lockdown, adapting their operations, adopting new technologies and continually planning to stay one ahead. These are difficult times but hopefully, what we’ve managed to show, is that with a huge amount of positivity, innovation and keeping a keen eye on the numbers, you can get through this, help your community when they need it most and hopefully come out the other side and thrive.”[/vc_column_text]