Why you'll do the cooking in the restaurant of the future
Ian Dickson
The build-it-yourself burgers have kept restaurants afloat during the pandemic.

The build-it-yourself burgers have kept restaurants afloat during the pandemic.

Budding chefs can now recreate their favourite restaurant meals at home after COVID-19 forced many chefs and owners to come up with inventive new ways to keep the lights on.

From build-it-yourself burgers to heat-at-home pasta, restaurants have started selling meal boxes that contain all the ingredients and instructions food lovers need to recreate restaurant-quality meals at home. All you have to do is cook and assemble. And, unlike a traditional takeaway, you don't have to eat it the moment it arrives.

READ MORE: Socially distanced dining experience for one

In London, burger chain Patty & Bun launched a DIY box when lockdown restrictions meant it had to shutter its restaurants.

"We launched the boxes right at the beginning when no one was really doing it," said Patty & Bun founder Joe Grossman. "There will be a continued shift to takeaway and delivery and I can see more people across the world gravitating to DIY boxes. Restaurants need to start adding additional revenue streams outside of their four walls."


Booming food delivery market

According to Statista, the European online food delivery market was already thriving, growing by 8.2 percent a year and with 177 million users in 2020. The coronavirus pandemic has spiked that demand. Takeaway platforms such as Just Eat Takeaway, Deliveroo and Uber have noted a 21 percent increase in spending and investment group Cowen and Company believes that more than 50 percent of restaurant business will be "off premises" by the end of 2020.

But while the takeaway market is booming across Europe, bars and restaurants are badly affected because of tourism and social distancing. In Italy alone, it's predicted that as many as 50,000 may close for good, says FIPE, a lobbying group for the industry.

Restaurants are also coming under pressure from subscription-based meal companies such as HelloFresh, which delivers chef-prepared meal boxes that take the strain out of meal planning and preparation. According to the Retail Times, demand for these DIY kits grew by 114 percent in April, helping Berlin-based HelloFresh's shares to surge by 60 percent.

Joe Grossman got around COVID-19 restrictions in London by setting up a delivery service.

Joe Grossman got around COVID-19 restrictions in London by setting up a delivery service.


The future of restaurants? 

H.G. Parsa of the University of Denver, an expert in food retail, believes that, aside from the challenges of coronavirus, the rising cost of rent and low margins mean restaurants have needed to diversify for some time now.

"Financially, the current model doesn't make sense," said Parsa. "The future is takeaway and drive-through. The big chains woke up to this a couple of years ago and started reducing the size of their restaurants and pushing takeaway."


50% of the time restaurants are dead
 -  H.G. Parsa, University of Denver


But why the rising popularity for DIY food? "Sauce-based foods don't travel well," he explains. "The sauce makes it less portable. You have to eat it straight away because it becomes really soggy."

In the U.S., there's a successful chain called Papa Murphy's, which allows you to order a ready-assembled pizza and bake it at home in the oven in your own time. "It tastes so much better," says Parsa, "because you can make it fresh whenever you want to."


Restaurant-style experience at home

This trend had been slow to take off, but COVID-19 has accelerated it. Now, from Dublin to Paris, London to Madrid, restaurants are turning into grocers to cater to a growing wave of foodies who want a restaurant-style experience at home that's beyond the level of their local takeaway.

Dublin restaurant Allta recently launched a subscription-based DIY food kit that requires customers to finish it off at home. "Rather than a takeaway, we decided to do a home delivery service," head chef Niall Davidson told the Irish News. "This way the diner gets involved in a little gentle cooking, and also gets to choose how they enjoy the Allta box – either all together, or spread out over a few different meals."


Big restaurants have already begun moving into takeaway and delivery services.

Big restaurants have already begun moving into takeaway and delivery services.


Similarly, the city's Butcher Grille is selling takeaway boxes of DIY steak and cocktails. In Paris, Italian food chain Big Mamma is selling DIY pasta kits alongside takeaways of ready-prepared dishes. And Eataly Paris Marais partnered with Deliveroo to provide its customers with deliveries of grocery items as well as kits of cold meats, cheese, pasta, sauce and wine. Spokesperson Pascale Cantave said: "This was well received since a lot of people could still enjoy high-quality and fresh products even at home."

Joris Wilton, communications manager at Just Eat Takeaway, a leading fast-food delivery platform covering Europe, said: "What COVID-19 really changed is that restaurant owners are starting to think about diversifying their revenues. There was already a lot of dine-in restaurants moving to takeaway pre-coronavirus, but that will certainly be accelerated as restaurants try to stay close to their customers."