Food & Drinks

Takeaway foods prove a hard sell


A server at Mr. Yao restaurant packs takeaway Chinese dish, in Westlands, Nairobi. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

For years, high-end restaurants have known only one way to excite their diners; top chefs whip up sumptuous dishes, plate the food artistically, serve it in an intimate setting, while Jazz hits play in the background.

None of the top chefs had thought they would have to offer their sautéed mushrooms, pulled pork, caviar, or grilled shrimps to delivery men working for Uber Eats.

Previously, it is the exquisite décor that kept attracting diners to restaurants where they hang out for a while and spent money. But now as the chefs send food to people’s homes following the government’s order for restaurants to only offer takeaway, money coming in is exceptionally low.

“Look at all this and tell me how we can package this for a takeaway,” says Richard Kimenyi, general manager of Hemingways, as we walk into the luxury hotel located in Nairobi’s Karen.

To keep the food business going, high-end restaurants are looking for ways to give takeaways a fine-dining feel. Most people who order from these restaurants still want to at least have a feel of luxury in their boxed dishes.

“We have had to do away with the aluminium packaging. We now pack the food in boxes. We try as much as possible to get the presentation as close as we can to dine-in,” says Archie Athanasius, Hemingways Executive Chef.

Even though takeaway is not a new concept at the hotel, Hemingways now sends out the food to its customers as though they were at the hotel.

“If a customer orders a burger, it has to be packed differently with chips and salad aside. The end product when it gets to be opened at home it has to look nice. Before, the sauce would be mixed with the lettuce when it is served on the table.”

The most ordered takeaways from Hemingways are sandwiches, burgers, salads and wraps.

For Villa Rosa Kempinski, another five-star hotel, the takeaway service and catering for online deliveries started last year after the first lockdown.

Guests pick their food at the Lobby Café , K-Lounge, or at the porte-cochère without stepping out of their cars. The hotel also opened an e-shop selling five different cuisines including Italian, Pan Asian, Arabian, Kenyan and international.

“Being the only option we were left with for revenue-generating, we have capitalised on our strength of being among the few five-star hotels with five different restaurant concepts,” says Manoj Aswal, the Kempinski Executive Chef. “It is a way for catering to our guests who miss dining at our restaurants.”

Takeaway culture

The popular items ordered from Villa Rosa Kempinski include the old-fashioned lasagne, Arabic cold mezze, Tambourin grill, Chinese chicken kung pao, and mutton biryani.

On weekends, there is a surge in orders as diners order food packaged for Ramadan special, birthdays, or Mother’s Day.

Part of the takeaway culture among the rich and middle-class has been driven by Uber Eats, an online food ordering and delivery platform.

“We have seen an increase in appetite for online grocery orders and restaurant takeaways. We have got more eaters and they are eating more,” says Lorraine Onduru, who works in communication at Uber Eats East Africa, add

This is because all types and sizes of restaurants have signed up to sell takeout. Most orders come in on Friday lunch and Sunday dinner.

Through Uber Eats, most Kenyans buy chips, chicken, and cheese sandwiches in that order. Favourite snacks include chicken dim sum, mahamri, and Gulab jamun, an Indian sweet made from milk. Soups such as Chinese braised beef soup are also popular and green power smoothie. Most ordered drinks are Coke and Minute Maid.

Yellow beans, coconut, and chapati are among the local favourite meals delivered at people’s homes. “Staying at home has become a new way of life and Kenyans are looking for a quick and convenient way to enjoy meals and order groceries and household items, without leaving their homes,” she adds.

But the takeaway culture is not yet so entrenched in Kenyans. Most people either dine out or cook at home.

According to Mr Kimenyi, people love to visit hotels to enjoy the ambience. Before coronavirus, what drew families was the limitless Prosecco sparkling wine served with Sunday brunch, or high teas, an alternative for after-work or evening coffee, or Saturday sushi and sangria.

Families and friends prepared for these events, setting a whole day to socialise and eat.

“How many times do you meet someone ordering a glass of wine but ends up drinking a bottle? For women, it is usually about dressing for brunch or meet-ups. It is the experience of being in a hotel that customers spend on. All these things cannot be packaged,” Chef Archie adds.

Shawarma and pizza

For those who crave the hotel set-up, they are checking in.

“We are still catering for residents who are booked and staying in the hotel,” he adds.

Priyan Kolapara, director of operations at Nyama Mama says Kenyans have a culture of cooking at home making the takeaway service unsustainable.

Pre-pandemic, takeaway contributed only six percent of total revenue at the restaurant.

“We did not see any major changes, it is the same level of orders or less coming in,” he says.

“A client who likes eating at home will likely come to a restaurant to have a dining experience.”

Takeaway has also been affected badly as few middle-class are spending on takeout food as some lost jobs or their salaries were cut.

Most restaurants are recording an 80 percent to 90 percent decline in revenues.

Even the fast-food outlets, ideally that were thriving in takeout business before Covid-19, are concerned over the low sales.

At Big Knife along Nairobi’s Argwings Kodhek Road, the most ordered takeaway foods are shawarma and pizza.

“We have not been so busy but we are glad at least we are in business because most places have closed,” says Hannah Kahara, who works at the eatery.

The outlet has been doing delivery to homes with their riders at a fee of Sh100 to Sh400.

“With the 8pm curfew there aren’t many orders, everyone is rushing to be home on time,” she says.