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What will a trip to your local chipper look like post-lockdown?

Haddock and chips
Haddock and chips

With customers still looking to get their fish supper fix, chip shop owners continue to adapt amidst the pandemic. But where do they go from here?

As lockdown continues with restrictions only slightly eased, a trip to your local chipper to pick up a haddock supper sounds almost too good to be true – or too similar to life before Covid-19.

With more and more people itching to get a taste of normality back into their lives, fish and chip shops across the country have been slowly reopening to the public, following initial closures.

As some of the first food firms to trial different ways of working, chip shop owners have been tasked with incredible challenges, trying to ensure staff and customers are kept safe while still providing their quality service to the public.

Celebrating National Fish and Chips Day today, many people will be turning to their local to support these independent businesses.

Developing an app and launching an online delivery service via his firm’s website was just two of the things Calum Richardson, owner of The Bay Fish & Chips in Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, did to help relaunch his business.

He said: “A lot of folk have loved it, and some haven’t. The online ordering and click and collect is quite basic and it’s forced us to use it and understand it more. I originally put it in for locals to order if we were rammed with tourists.

“The app is far superior and keeps you notified on at what stage your order is at. When we start preparing it, it tells you the food is being prepared, and then when it’s ready. Folk coming to get their orders have been queuing at their time slot, but before, they will wait at the sea front or some sit in their cars.

The Bay Fish and Chips click and collect window. Calum Richardson, far right

“We could have opened way earlier than we did, but I didn’t want to encourage anyone to come down the beach. Even when I can re-open the shop to the public, I don’t know if I will.”

Working with local taxi firm DashCabs, Calum has been able to offer a delivery service to the local area, ensuring everyone can get their Bay Fish & Chips fix, even those self-isolating or shielding.

“Doing deliveries has been busier than I thought it was going to be. We’re doing over 400 deliveries over four days,” said Calum.

“It’s good, it was hard work mentally working a different system and being conscious of everyone around you.

The Bay Fish & Chips haddock supper

“Last weekend we did over 800 click and collect orders. It’s hard when people are calling or messaging on Facebook trying to change their orders. I’m allowing three customers to the window every five minutes and doing three deliveries every 15 minutes, too, so if I stop to respond, then it slows everything down. It’s quite robotic but you know what you’re going to sell, what the orders are – for a lot of businesses this would become a very effective way of working.”

Introducing specials most weeks, the businessman said the past few weeks of click and collect has shown him that this service won’t be going away anytime soon.

He added: “I’ve introduced things every week and I’m rebuilding it. We had offered lobster before but decided to add it again. It’s time-consuming and a lot of work but I have 43 on order already and I place the order in advance so there’s no waste.

“You have to shut off thinking about how much you’ve lost with your business being closed. It was almost like starting a new business going back in. A lot of suppliers aren’t working so its been challenging at times. We reduced the menu to make it manageable.

Last weekend we did over 800 click and collect orders. We’re doing over 400 deliveries over four days”

Calum Richardson – owner of The Bay Fish & Chips

“This year isn’t about making money, it’s like starting a whole new business and rebuilding it safely. Click and collect will stay and deliveries may reduce, if the demand is there, it will stay. We’re working with DashCabs and they said they had done more business in our first weekend using them for delivery than they had in the whole of lockdown. ”

Husband and wife Rikki and Gillian Pirie, owners of Sea Salt + Sole

Rikki Pirie, co-owner of Sea Salt + Sole which has two premises in Aberdeen, one in Dyce and the other in Bridge of Don, is also experiencing a huge surge in orders.

Reopening around three weeks ago, Rikki took all of the necessary precautions to ensure he could open the shops safely.

He said: “Things are going well. I was a bit nervous reopening and ensuring we reopened safely for the community and the team. We felt most comfortable with a click and collect service which means our customers would order and pay online. They get given a time slot to collect their food and we can manage the volume of customers coming to the shops at any one time. They collect their food at the door.

“The customers are loving it. The shop can be very chaotic at peak times and with this, we’re able to control the volume of customers coming to the shop, and everyone’s loving how hassle-free it is. It’s something we’ll have to look at keeping even when things relax.

“Fish and chips is the biggest seller. I knew we’d have to offer gluten-free as it’s such a popular item on our menu. I didn’t want to open if we couldn’t offer it.”

With spaces booking up a week or so in advance and the venues selling out most weekends, Rikki and his team punt out more than 500 orders in each venue a week.

“We limit the amount of orders for time slots so when they’re gone, they’re gone. That can be quite stressful as a lot of people still want to phone or turn up at the shop. But we have to direct them online,” said Rikki.

“It can be really stressful when people turn up, but we’re trying to be responsible and care for everyone. A lot of people can’t believe a chipper has sold out. We have done well over 100 orders in four hours and most weekends sell out which is amazing.

“We’re open five nights and get over one hundred orders a night so we’re looking at more than 500 orders every week – that’s both shops. Some orders are huge, too.”

Rikki is enjoying the ability to control the amount of orders and get a constant flow of custom, and thinks this could be the future for some fish and chip shops.

A lot of people can’t believe a chipper has sold out. We have done well over 100 orders in four hours and most weekends sell out which is amazing”

Rikki Pirie – owner of Sea Salt + Sole

He said: “It’s a completely different way to operate. We can control the quality much easier, especially when the shop was rammed, and it’s a lot more manageable for everyone. All the orders are spread out over the whole night and because people have pre-ordered we know exactly how much we need.

“Until there’s a vaccine I think there will be an element of social distancing. Some customers wear masks and some are quite relaxed. I think going forward, even when we do let customers back into the shop, will be limited. Deliveries and collections are definitely going to be a big thing for the time being – and the future.”

In Dundee and St Andrews, the Tailend, which is owned by Gordon and Aileen Spink of G&A Fish Merchants of Arbroath, is also learning quickly how best to adapt to customers’ needs.

Jess and Darren Spink with their son Arno

Darren Spink, son of Gordon and Aileen, runs both Tailend venues with his wife Jess and his sister Hayley Smith.

A popular seafood restaurant with a fish and chip shop attached to it, Jess said the firm has adapted its offering by launching a fresh fish delivery service and adding fish ready meals, too.

She said: “Darren’s parents business supplies us with all of the fish and they were really keen to get fresh fish out for delivery. We’ve been doing deliveries for four or five weeks across the region and we’ve also made ready meals like Thai fish curry, haddock mac and cheese and hot smoked salmon salads. We’re just away to launch BBQ packs like marinated skewers and tuna steaks.

“We kind of thought we needed to try and do something if we could, safely.

“We have a few Tailend romances. There’s two couples who work in our Dundee and St Andrews shop and they were able to work together safely within the shop. We had barricaded the doors and, initially, when we were doing delivery and collections we would just leave everything at the door on a table. No one was coming into the store.”

Reopening four to five weeks ago, it is only now the business is considering letting customers come back into the venue, with planning currently in place to do so.

“The demand is there and with the golf courses opening, we will have people looking for something to eat. We’re going to try do noon to 10pm seven days a week and just kind of go for it as this is our busy time,” said Jess.

“We’ve just got protective screens installed in our St Andrews store so we can maybe think about letting customers back in and ordering in the shop. St Andrews is such a busy place – people are going to come but we need to now figure out the best queuing system so it’s safe for everyone. We will look at having an easy one-way-in and one-way-out system, markings on the floor and things like that. We have hand sanitiser everywhere and everyone wears gloves. My mother-in-law’s friend made us fishtail masks which are washable. Working in the seafood industry, you don’t really want to be using disposable one-time-use products unless you have to.”

With orders set to be ready for collection in 20-30 minutes after ordering online, Jess says it will be a while before social distancing becomes a thing of the past.

“I don’t know how much will change very quickly and we will still have all these safety precautions and limited service. We won’t be doing as many orders as last year, that’s for sure. We just have to push other aspects like delivery, fresh fish and have that available for people. The next few months will be the busiest and we have to manage that the best we can.

“Both of our shops are attached to seafood restaurants. In summer that’s a good whack of our business and it is sitting empty, so that’s our next focus. The Government will be releasing some guidance, but we need to be able to see what we can do on the restaurant side. Even if lockdown eases, not everyone is going to feel comfortable coming out.”