Delivery is the future for fine dining in Brazil

. May 17, 2020
With sit-in custom forbidden during Covid-19 quarantine, even the swankiest restaurants have turned their attention to food delivery — a trend set to continue in the post-coronavirus economy Photo: Esther Rooftop

Covid-19 isolation measures have already changed a number of industries in ways that we do not yet understand. Sanitary concerns will take on unprecedented importance around the world, and the rapid expansion and public acceptance of on-demand delivery services of an unlimited range of products may have changed consumer habits forever.

Affected by all of the above factors is the restaurant business, an industry that relies on the public leaving their homes, gathering in reasonably confined spaces, and not wearing masks. While mid-range and popular restaurants have been invested in food delivery for decades, Covid-19 has also pushed fine dining establishments into the takeaway business.

</p> <p>Food delivery is a huge business in Brazil and has been for some time, particularly thanks to the facility of smartphone apps. When factoring in courier and transport services, there are an estimated 4 million people working with deliveries in the country. Leading the way is Brazilian firm iFood, which last year registered some 1.2 million searches per month on Google, Bing, and Yahoo.</p> <p>In 2019, we wrote that Brazil&#8217;s bar and restaurant association <a href="">predicted phone-based delivery to become completely extinct</a> within five years, such has been the boom in app usage.</p> <h2>Haute cuisine at your door</h2> <p>However, with iFood&#8217;s ranks normally filled with local pizza joints and fast-food chains, the Covid-19 pandemic has seen Michelin-star restaurants migrating to smartphone apps and their own delivery systems, to keep business ticking over during social isolation.</p> <p>&#8220;Honestly, it was a matter of survival,&#8221; says Benoit Mathurin, head chef at Esther Rooftop, the swanky French bistro in São Paulo&#8217;s city center that has been offering food delivery since the start of the city&#8217;s quarantine. &#8220;It meant that we could keep paying our staff and that we could remain present during the isolation,&#8221; he explains, speaking to <strong>The Brazilian Report.</strong></p> <p>Esther Rooftop&#8217;s delivery offerings consist of a sizable <em>à la carte</em> menu, with dishes that one wouldn&#8217;t typically see in a takeaway, such as pork cheek with arracacha gnocchi, or deep-fried camembert with a herb salad and plum compote.</p> <p>&#8220;I had actually planned to start a delivery menu six months before the coronavirus outbreak,&#8221; explains Mr. Mathurin. The expansion had been put off due to what the chef describes as &#8220;laziness,&#8221; but also a fear of not being able to deliver a product that lived up to the restaurant&#8217;s high standards. &#8220;So far, though, it&#8217;s going great. People seem to be happy.&#8221;</p> <p>While results certainly differ from establishment to establishment, Esther Rooftop is managing to cover its overheads by delivering meals. However, many restaurants have been forced to branch out and offer other services, such as emporiums — to make use of their extensive stocks of wine, cheese, and other specialty products — and frozen meals, to take advantage of the public&#8217;s developing habit of cooking at home.</p> <p>&#8220;The reality is we&#8217;re going to need three or four different revenue sources from now on,&#8221; says Mr. Mathurin. &#8220;We can no longer rely on the restaurant alone, everything is going to change.&#8221;</p> <h2>Restaurants of the future</h2> <p>Indeed, the eventual reopening of bars and restaurants is the cause of much anticipation and trepidation for owners. Once quarantine measures have been lifted and establishments are allowed to fill their dining rooms again, there is an expectation that it will take some time for clients to regain their trust and feeling of safety about eating out.</p> <p>Customers are likely to place heightened importance on sanitation, particularly in upscale eateries, meaning that several adaptations will have to be made when restaurants do eventually reopen.</p> <p>At Esther Rooftop, the team is planning on pulling out all the stops. &#8220;We&#8217;re going to measure temperatures at the entrance, make disinfectant spray available to the customers, and maybe even put in plexiglass barriers at each table,&#8221; says the head chef. While masks are clearly out of the question for diners, the kitchen and wait staff will use protective face covers at all times.

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Euan Marshall

Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”

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