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The Tenacious Spirit Of Hospitality - How To Reinvent A Business For Covid & Beyond

The Tenacious Spirit Of Hospitality - How To Reinvent A Business For Covid & Beyond

Spearheaded by the legendary Andrew Blake, an influential Melbournian chef, Blakes Feast is a renowned, family-run catering and events company that’s been in operation for an impressive 30 years. 

In March 2020, Blakes Feast pivoted their operations and launched BLAKEAWAY, an online ready-meals business that offers an extensive menu of ready to go meals, from soups to pies, salads and curries, which are available for pick-up and delivery. 

While BLAKEAWAY provided the team at Blakes Feast with an opportunity to stay afloat during the Covid pandemic, the new business model was a huge hit and rapidly grew from one takeaway site to four in less than two years. 

We spoke with Josh, the Operations & Logistics Manager at Blakes Feast, to understand how the business managed to successfully pivot, grow and thrive during an undoubtedly challenging period and the role of technology in growing a business. 

A journey of growth

From a catering and events company to a multi-site takeaway business, Blakes Feast and BLAKEAWAY have achieved phenomenal growth in the last two years. What makes this achievement even more impressive, is the fact they did it in the midst of a global pandemic, in one of the world’s most locked-down cities.  

“Blakes Feast was always an events and catering company, and during the pandemic, from the start of 2020, the family knew they needed to shift the whole business model to survive. One to keep all of the staff employed, but also to have work for the business,” explains Josh.

“We started BLAKEAWAY, which is a prepared meal service, you can order online for collection or delivery. That [operation] was for the major focus of 2020 while catering events was not possible.”

“We then launched a pop-up in December 2020 down in Portsea, just outside of Melbourne, and that really took off last summer [2021].”

The pop-up in Portsea offered a range of coffees, cakes and breads as well as their main offering of ready-to-go meals. The pop-up proved to be so popular that BLAKEAWAY renewed the lease at the end of summer 2021 and they’ve now worked through their second summer.

“It’s been going crazy,” comments Josh. “It’s surprising how much demand there is for the product, it never seems to end with people coming back through.”

After the success of the Portsea site, the BLAKEAWAY team opened their third venue in Brighton, and their opening weekend coincided with the first weekend of lockdown in Victoria.

“That was interesting,” remarks Josh. “With everyone limited to a 5km radius, the customer base we could reach was quite limited for our first Metro Melbourne based store.”

“We still had our delivery network ongoing, so every suburb was generally facilitated two or three days of the week.”

Despite the lockdown and restrictions, BLAKEAWAY were confident in their business model and achieved phenomenal growth through a challenging time. Unperturbed by some of the hurdles they’d faced, BLAKEAWAY opened their flagship store in Armadale in November 2021. 

Alongside their ready meals, the Armadale store also stocks homewares, pasta, natural chocolates, treats and condiments.


Customer Loyalty: the importance of a hybrid model

While BLAKEAWAY was initially established to keep the business afloat during the pandemic, as Blakes Feast was unable to operate – both businesses now run alongside each other, catering to their respective markets. 

BLAKEAWAY very much catered to pandemic-stricken customers, who were keen to eat restaurant-quality food during lockdown. Despite restrictions easing and life returning back to normal (or the new normal), BLAKEAWAY have found that their customer base has remained loyal and hungry for takeaway meals. 

“We’ve noticed that a lot of customers who were regularly ordering online last year and into this year are the same customers we see in our stores,” explains Josh.

“While our online orders sometimes fluctuate, as we’ve emerged out of lockdown we’ve found that our customers are still purchasing the food to suit their routine, whether it’s in-store or online.”  

The role of tech

As a catering and events company, Blakes Feast never had the need for a point of sale (POS) system. However, when BLAKEAWAY opened its doors, a POS system was paramount to their operations – not only for processing orders and payments, but also for inventory management and reporting. 

For BLAKEAWAY, having several stores means it’s imperative to tightly control inventory – to efficiently cut costs and minimise wastage. 

“[With several stores] there’s a bit more management involved, and you need to understand where stock is going,” explains Josh. “Otherwise you have food that is nearing expiry and not being documented as wastage, or you have a fridge full of food and you don’t even know what the stock value of whats in the fridge is worth.” 

When it comes to ordering inventory, Lightspeed’s accessibility across multiple sites will allow the team at BLAKEAWAY to know exactly what to order, and when.

“At any time of the day, we can see what we’ve sold at any site. [It’s easy to] make the data visible so the kitchen can base the store orders for the following day, and how much stock they need to send to each location, guided by par levels,” comments Josh. 

“The kitchen doesn’t need to rely on the store manager to send the order, they can just look at the report… They make the decision for the stock guided by feedback from the store each day.” 

Blakeaway inside

When BLAKEAWAY first opened its doors, it was a one-site operation. However, the team were confident in the business model and knew they needed a POS that could support and scale with BLAKEAWAY as it grew and expanded to other sites. 

“We needed something that had the capability to connect multiple sites. Knowing that it [Lightspeed] had that functionality made it so much easier than having to set up separate locations that couldn’t talk to one another.” 

With so many new stores opening in a relatively short space of time, Lightspeed made it easy for BLAKEAWAY to get up and running, so they could start selling as quickly as possible.

“I usually ask my account manager: we’re opening a new store, can you set up a new site for us? And within the day it’s there ready to go and we set a date for it to go active,” explains Josh. 

“The POS has the same set up at each site, so everyone’s familiar with it. It just takes 10-15 minutes to set up the apps on the iPad and you’re good to go.”

What does the future hold for hospitality?

The hospitality industry has faced an immense amount of challenges over the past few years, and, at least for the short term, it looks like many of these are set to remain. 

“In terms of challenges [for hospitality], there are probably more to come that we haven’t seen yet,” comments Josh. “Supply of produce and inventory is definitely a challenge at the moment, and the same with finding staff.”

“2021 was definitely more challenging for everyone and hopefully people can see that the struggle business are facing, whether it be short on staff, or unable able to facilitate a particular menu item right now is a temporary situation”

“Maintaining a strong relationship with customers is important. It’s been great to see our customers visiting our stores and reaching new customers as travel restrictions opened. Hopefully, this positive and respectful attitude continues to outway the negative moments.”

With that being said, Josh & the team at BLAKEAWAY are optimistic about the changing attitudes of customers. 

“I think waiting for that moment for the mood out there to change is a short-term challenge and the current limitations from the lingering effects of the lockdown ease,” says Josh.

While there are challenges that lie ahead for the industry, the team at BLAKEAWAY believe it’s important to assess and understand what obstacles they might face in the future – so they can tackle each appropriately. Ultimately, this will place them in a stronger position when they come to open more sites. 

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