Takeaway orders have always served an important role for coffee shops. As well as offering an additional revenue stream, they allow businesses to operate beyond the confines of their brick-and-mortar space.
However, during the Covid-19 pandemic takeaway orders assumed an even greater function. They became nothing short of a necessity for coffee shops, providing a crucial lifeline at a time when footfall was at its lowest.
Despite the easing of restrictions, it’s clear that takeaway orders will continue to play an integral part of the day-to-day running of most coffee shops.
To understand more about the value of takeaway orders for coffee shops, I spoke with three-time barista champion and Starbucks South Africa consultant, Ishan Natalie.
How has Covid-19 affected consumer habits?
Over the last 18 months, a combination of government lockdowns, social distancing measures, and residual fears of infection have kept the vast majority of people at home.
At the same time, many non-essential businesses have been forced to halt or reduce operating hours to help stop the spread of Covid-19. It’s estimated that more than 90% of hospitality have had to close at some point during the pandemic.
Inevitably, this has led to the emergence of a number of new coffee consuming habits. For example, people have learned to recreate their favourite café-style beverages at home.
According to a recent survey by the National Coffee Association, 85% of coffee drinkers have had at least one cup at home.
However, the study indicates that, at the same time, on-the-go consumption grew, with drive-through and app-based ordering both up by 30%.
Ishan is a three-time South African Barista Champion and currently leads the beverage category at Starbucks South Africa.
With over two decades of experience in the coffee industry, he played a key role in establishing the coffee chain in the South African market.
He tells me that he’s witnessed a tangible shift towards takeaways and delivery models.
“You see takeaway cups everywhere,” he says, “and people on-the-go drinking coffees in their car or walking around with a cup of coffee.
“So, definitely as a market and industry, you can see [the shift]. I also think a lot of cafés have adapted their business models and operational mechanisms to suit higher takeaway orders.”
While Ishan thinks that home coffee consumption will continue and even grow further over time, takeaway or delivery services also have a place in the market.
“I think the at-home coffee approach is here to stay because it’s convenient – it’s coffee the way you like it and you don’t have to leave the comfort of your house.
“However, people also like to be treated, and some don’t want to spend the time making coffee at home; they want the convenience of someone else doing it and they are willing to pay the cost of it.
“Taking myself as an example: I still brew mostly at home, but I order delivery from time to time when I crave that comfort of my favourite coffee from my favourite coffee shop.”
How takeaway orders are helping businesses
At some point during 2020, up to 92% of coffee shops in the UK had to temporarily close, according to a study by World Coffee Portal.
Consequently, the majority of cafés had to quickly adapt their trading model to stay afloat. An estimated 70% switched to takeaway only, 67% cut down on operating hours, and 57% limited a lifeline.
For example, Tim Wendelboe, a celebrated roaster who runs a coffee shop in Norway, said in a recent interview that he had to close his store immediately following Covid-19 regulations.
After a time, he was able to open the coffee shop for two days a week to sell coffee beans, before introducing takeaway options, too.
In the interview, he said: “The downside is that our guests can’t sit and enjoy the coffee in our café, but the upside is that it is easier to handle so we need less baristas at work. It actually means we can still make a profit, although sales are slightly lower.”
Ishan tells me that Starbucks introduced “walk-thru” stores, a similar concept to drive-thru, in which customers order via a mobile app before picking up their drinks in store.
Not only is this convenient, it also allows them to enjoy their favourite beverage with lower risks of coming in contact with groups of people. The convenience and safety factors are crucial for customer satisfaction and retention in this unprecedented time.
“During the pandemic, people wanted coffee, but they didn’t necessarily feel comfortable sitting in a café, even if it is still serving as normal,” Ishan explains. “So that’s where people can just come in, grab coffee, and go to their safe space – whether it’s work, home, or out and about.
“Delivery orders have also played a massive role. Through our partnership with Uber Eats, we found that about 10-15% of all of our daily transactions are delivery orders, which is really good.
“The wonderful thing about delivery is that you are not only catering to your loyal customers who are not feeling safe to come to your stores, but also those who didn’t come to your business before.”
The importance of a quality takeaway experience
To maximise the potential of takeaway services for your business, café owners and roasters need to make sure that the takeaway (or delivery) experience is of a similar standard to the dine-in experience.
There are two elements that make up a good takeaway experience: speed and product quality.
For example, Ishan explains that baristas at Starbucks heat the milk slightly hotter (without burning it) to ensure that consumers enjoy their coffee at the right temperature when it’s delivered to them.
“The speed of service must also be consistent with product quality,” Ishan says. “Just because someone wants a quick to-go coffee, it doesn’t mean they’re looking for an inferior product or less than a perfect product. They want the exact same experience as if they had sat down in the café.”
An operational mechanism that ensures efficiency is something coffee roasters or café owners should prioritise. Ishan says this tends to take the form of an investment in labour, especially for cafés with large volumes of takeaway orders.
“It may be a good idea to bring someone else on during peak times to support the main barista in getting things prepped.
“When the barista is going at full pace and the cup queue is piling up, someone can come in to line the cups up, sequence them, pour milk into jugs and have all the things ready. Basically, adding more people as a support function to deliver quality with speed.”
Additionally, when introducing takeaway services for your business, you need to consider the vessels that hold your drink. When choosing takeaway cups, it is important to make sure that the materials of the cup do not impart new flavours to the drink or affect the coffees flavours.
The cups should fit effortlessly under the group heads to maintain an efficient workflow, while staff should be familiar with which cups go with which drinks.
Over the last year and a half, coffee businesses looking for ways to survive have found takeaway orders to be a lifeline.
Despite the gradual relaxation of restrictions, residual fears about the Covid-19 mean takeaway options are likely here to stay. Now, the challenge is how coffee shops can maintain quality, speed, and consistency alongside regular orders.
At MTPak, we offer fully sustainable takeaway cups for specialty coffee roasters, made from either PET or kraft paper. Designed to fit under most group heads, they help baristas maintain a consistent workflow.
Recyclable, lightweight and strong, our cups can be customised with designs that suit your brand story, as well as create an engaging experience for your customers.