How legendary fish and chip restaurant Colmans has perfected home delivery and its plans for the future
The pandemic brings its own unique challenges for businesses when it comes to keeping both staff and customers safe during the coronavirus crisis.
But for one household name, Colmans, the task of delivering its quality fish and chips to the people of South Shields whilst meeting Covid-19 safety measures is a challenge that they are rising to.
Like many other businesses across South Tyneside who are adhering to the strict Government guidelines in order to operate, Colmans has been taking steps to ensure that it is ready to run in a way it never has before as we enter a new world outside of lockdown.
Colmans at home
Launching its home delivery and click and collect service from its Ocean Road branch on May 11, Colmans has been inundated with hundreds of orders from customers looking for that familiar comfort of fish and chips.
Order slots sold out within just four hours after first going live last Monday and when more were released the following day, they too sold out.
Customers can collect their food during their allocated time slot or have it delivered to their homes, as long as it is within a three-mile radius from Ocean Road.
The delivery radius aims to ensure that customers receive the quality they expect, while the limit on the number of orders that can be placed means that the safety measures for both staff and customers are adhered to.
“It’s all new to us, it is a completely new way of working,” Colmans Director, Richard Ord, said.
”The three-mile radius at the moment is so that we can guarantee that the quality of the food is what you would expect.
“And the reason we called the service Colmans at Home is because we want people to take it home rather than go to the beach – that is the reason we didn’t open Colmans Seafood Temple.”
Both Colmans’ brances, on Ocean Road and on Sea Road, closed their doors to the public on March 22 and March 23 respectively following the lockdown announcement.
Unable to work, staff were placed on furlough to protect their jobs during the crisis, and many remain on the scheme, with just a limited team returning to work to operate the delivery and collection service.
“It is just me, my dad Richard, brother Dominic and mam Frances, along with a few members of staff,” Richard said.
“The idea was that it is then just a few households to help with social distancing and it makes it a safer way of working not just for the customers, but for the staff.”
Planning for social distancing in the long term
Whilst unable to get the full team back to work, Colmans has been using the time under lockdown to deliver special Covid-19 training to all 70 of its staff
through hospitality body Navitas.
The idea behind the training is so that the business is ready to carry out social distancing and safety measures to protect each other and customers when it is ready to fully reopen to the public.
Colmans bosses have also spent weeks putting a Covid-19 system in place –involving a full risk-assessment of the business – so that it is able to operate safely during the pandemic.
“I can’t see it being as short-term thing. This is going to go on until we find a vaccine,” Richard said.
“I think social distancing and the new procedures are going to be in place for a while.
“That is why when we closed I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to put staff through the training that they wanted so that when we do start to reopen, everyone is ready to go.
“Although guidelines say we can reopen, I don’t feel at this point we can reopen the shop and let people in.
“We think the click and collect service is the safest way to do things.”
A South Shields staple
Richard – the fifth generation of the Colman family – said the team have been overwhelmed by the positive response from the public since they launched the delivery service.
“It’s been humbling,” Richard said.
“We have been out for so long, so to see all of these messages from customers and to see the faces of some of our older clientele when we deliver to their home has been incredible.
“People love fish and chips – it’s a staple part of the South Shields lifestyle.
“Everyone has good memories of fish and chips – there’s nothing nicer than tucking into a box of them.”
But face-to-face customer interaction is one of the things that Richard misses the most about life before lockdown.
Having been used to greeting customers in the Seafood Temple restaurant – Richard says one of the most enjoyable aspects of the job has been taken away by the crisis.
Richard said: “I was predominately on the floor of the Seafood Temple and I would go around and talk to customers, so for me that has been turned upside down as I can’t do that anymore, but it will come back.”
But the support from customers throughout the lockdown has been one of the most humbling experiences for Colmans staff.
“What has been amazing is that we have still been able to keep in touch with customers on Facebook,” Richard said.
“We have had messages saying they miss us and and can’t wait to come back and its nice to see that.
“So I am loving being open with the stricter guidelines, we have even had messages on the special requests option on the orders saying; ‘love you Colmans.’
“The response has been amazing.”
Restaurant reopening hopes
On the future of the business going forward, Colmans said it was one step at a time as they await for information from the Government.
The first phase of reopening is the current home delivery and collection service and the family hope the next stage will be to do the same at its Seafood Temple takeaway.
After which, Colmans hopes it will be able to reopen its restaurants one at a time whilst following social distancing.
“There is not a lot of information out there,” Richard said.
“I would love to see the restaurants start a phased opening in July.
“I think we can really socially distance in restaurants as you know where people are sitting and people will stay there for the meal.”
Meanwhile Colmans Seafood Temple on Sea Road has been lit up in rainbow colours each night to show support for the NHS – something Colmans says it will continue to do throughout the lockdown to raise spirits.
But on Friday night, May 22, it will be lit up pink and blue, the colours of the Chloe and Liam Together Forever Trust, in honour of Pink and Blue Day, which pays tribute to South Shields couple Chloe Rutherford and Liam Curry, who lost their lives in the Manchester bombing.