With the forced closure of eateries during the Alert Level 4 lockdown and serious restrictions imposed on trading in Level 3, navigating the last eight weeks has been hugely challenging for Wellington’s hospitality sector.
But the industry has found innovative ways to get their tasty goods onto the plates of Wellingtonians, with one new initiative, At Yours with Visa Wellington On a Plate, providing a platform for more than 400 eateries in the capital to trade under Alert Level 3.
As we enter Alert Level 2, we speak with five Wellington eateries who signed up to At Yours to find out what inventive ideas they came up with during these testing times.
Lashings, Dixon Street
Lashings owner Jackie Lee Morrison says it’s been an unusual and challenging time, but with a silver lining. “None of us will have ever gone through anything like this before, and very few of us will ever go through something like this again – we hope. But the support from the community has been amazing. People have been incredibly supportive, kind and patient.”
Jackie is behind The Pandemic Pack, a collaborative delivery service between 15 central Wellington businesses. “The idea behind it is that you can order from all of us and receive it in one delivery.”
She says the initiative was so popular when it was first launched, the online system crashed and had to be rebuilt to cope with the high-volume of orders. “We had 80 people log on in the first 10 minutes and order 160 portions of Soul Shack’s fried chicken, so that kind of broke the system.”
Jackie is also responsible for The Pandemic Pack digital cookbook, made available during the lockdown with a “pay what you can” price tag. Around 6000 copies have been sold so far, with the profits shared among the eateries who contributed the recipes.
She says camaraderie within the hospitality sector has reached new heights as a result of the challenging time.
“When people feel down, other people bring them up. When other people are happy, everyone celebrates that.
"It’s been really great just having a group of people that know exactly what you’re going through to be able to talk to. We’re all trying to help each other, it’s not about competition.”
Dragonfly, Courtenay Place
Food delivery may be nothing new, but cocktails delivered to your door? This was one of the more unique offerings by the Dragonfly team. Co-owner Tania Siladi says the aim was to cater to a variety of budgets and tastes.
“We had to think of innovative ways to offer the Dragonfly experience at people’s homes. Part of this experience is providing the range of options, signature cocktails, favourite dishes and hand delivery by our staff.”
Four non-alcoholic cocktails were up for purchase in vacuum-packed bags, complete with garnishes and preparation instructions with tips to add alcohol if desired. As well as drinks, the Dragonfly team offered some of their best-selling dishes, desserts, and meal kits.
Tania says trading under the pandemic restrictions has both kept the team on their toes while also providing things to smile about.
“The key challenges have been the constant changes and not knowing how customers would react to our offerings. The positive outcomes have been the amazing attitude of all our staff and the fantastic support of our loyal customers.”
Sweet Release, Willis Street
Kristine Bartley, of vegan cafe Sweet Release, saw the pandemic as an opportunity to reach out and give to people in the community who were going without. She has started the Pay it Forward Meal initiative.
“It’s something we have wanted to do for a while. It’s a free meal for anyone in need – no questions asked. People can check how many we have available via our website and on our Instagram daily stories.”
Those who want to purchase a Pay it Forward Meal for someone in need can do so for $10 by visiting the cafe’s website. Kristine said while it was about using her skillset and resources to help those in need, it was her customers who deserved the credit.
“Our community has been amazing – they are the ones funding this.”
Highwater Eatery, Cuba Street
Co-owner of Highwater Eatery, Rachael Stevens says the way they run the business has had to adapt significantly with each alert level, involving lots of planning and logistics.
At Alert Level 3, the eatery rolled out 'Highwater to go', offering gourmet ready-to-eat dinners with dessert, breakfast provision boxes containing enough for four meals, and organic vegetable boxes to help support local growers.
“We include some of our house made products and we also wanted to support our small suppliers by continuing to sell their products where we could,” says Rachael, adding that she and her two co-owners have been doing deliveries themselves along with using Wellington Combined Taxis.
She says the biggest challenges posed by the pandemic have been cash-flow, having to adapt very quickly, and communicating with loyal customers without having the door open. “We are very thankful to be members of the Restaurant Association as they have been a wonderful support and have great resources that have guided us through. And WellingtonNZ and Welly On a Plate’s support has been incredible.
“We were really heartened by some of the feedback we have been getting from our ‘Highwater to go’ customers, and the amount of orders we have received, exceeded our expectations, so that’s been really great.”
Rachael says the team are keeping positive and preparing for what could be a tough year ahead.
Cafe Polo, Miramar
Lisa Turnbull, director at Cafe Polo, says even the lockdown couldn’t keep the Polo team from sharing their tasty offerings and interacting with customers. “We started from the first week of Alert Level 4 by making videos for Instagram of us cooking items that have been popular at Polo. It turned out to be really successful, with lots of people recreating the recipes and sharing them.”
During Alert Level 3, Polo was busy serving up coffee, baked goods, a small lunch menu, and heat and eat meals for contactless pick-up or delivery. “We are three owners so together we've put in many hours work. We are basically available 24/7 answering email orders or questions. We are also delivering orders ourselves which is something very new to us.”
Lisa says the workload has been massive, with just the owners and two key staff members doing everything. But it’s not all bad.
“The biggest positive by far is the love we have had from our community and even wider. We have honestly been amazed by the support we have received. Lots of vouchers have been bought from us, pre-orders, daily coffee orders, lovely messages, and even big waves through the windows to us – we are very grateful.”
* At Yours by Visa Wellington On a Plate is a one-stop directory connecting hungry diners with more than 400 food and beverage services offering click and collect, contactless delivery and takeaway, and reaches right across the greater Wellington region. At Yours is presented in partnership with WellingtonNZ. Find out more at www.VisaWOAP.com/atyours