An innovative new food service model developed by a Newmarket restaurant is set to provide a solution for restaurants unable to open under current COVID alert levels.

The experience is described as a hybrid between dining-in and ordering takeaways and can also be used to expand restaurant seating capacity during peak hours, at lower alert levels.

The park-and-dine model developed by VT Station installs a temporary table inside the customer’s vehicle – allowing them to experience the service standards of a restaurant as well as the visual aesthetic of plated food.

Angela Gaikwad, VT Station director, says the concept was inspired by street food vendors in India – many of whom are unable to afford a physical restaurant presence and deliver their meals directly from the kitchen to customer vehicles.

She says while the idea has been adapted to fit the COVID operating environment the positive response from customers means it will become a permanent addition to their service offering.

“Like most restaurants in New Zealand we have been heavily impacted by the pandemic – we opened just three months before the first lockdown, and it has been an incredibly challenging operating environment ever since. 

“Our first weekend of operating the new hybrid dining model saw our revenues lift by over 30% over the previous week.

“This is a segment of customers that wouldn’t have ordered takeaways which tells us we are actually creating an entirely new market niche.

“We know that there are also customers who prefer plated meals to takeaways but don’t always want to get dressed up or may be heading out afterwards.

“Like many other hospitality venues, prior to the pandemic we have had to turn potential patrons away when our seating was at capacity – this will provide us with a new way to accommodate customers in the long term,” she says.

Gaikwad says they have been able to navigate COVID restrictions by providing contactless ordering and delivery while bringing elements of the restaurant service experience outside.

She says they built the in-vehicle tables themselves and created a ‘picnic on wheels’ option on their website which allows customers to select from their menu and pay for the meal.

“Our landlord has been incredibly supportive of this initiative – providing his carpark building across the road free of charge for us during the evenings.

“There are around 50 car parks in the building but right now we have sufficient vehicle tables for around 35 people, which means there is further room for us to scale up the offering if needed.

“Meals are served on biodegradable plates and cutlery and customers are provided with a bag to take their rubbish home with them – the only items that are reused are the tables which are sanitised after each meal. 

“We have also installed outdoor speakers in the carpark to play music which helps recreate the in-restaurant ambiance,” she says. 

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