The big food story this week is VAT. On Wednesday, a £4 billion VAT cut came into force. Chancellor Rishi Sunak had ordered a temporary VAT cut from 20 per cent to 5 per cent per cent to stimulate demand in the hospitality sector.
Several restaurants and food-to-go chains have price cuts:
Nando’s passed on “100% of the benefits” to its customers, reducing the price of a quarter chicken by 55p.
Pret A Manger cut the price of a takeaway latte by 35p to £2.40, while the price of hot food went down on Friday.
KFC reduced the price of sharing buckets by £1 and slashed the cost of certain “fan favourites” by 50p.
McDonald’s asked its franchisees to cut prices on an array of products, including the Big Mac, Quarter Pounder and coffee.
Pub chain Wetherspoon reduced prices on meals, coffee and soft drinks, and reduced prices on popular beers.
We can consider ourselves fortunate that they did. The Government had been clear that it was up to individual restaurants to decide what to do with the 15 per cent windfall and none were compelled to behave in that way.
Indeed, many other restaurants have not passed on the discount – and who can blame that.
Since March, they have been unable to operate normally and as they have to start making a contribution to the costs of still-furloughed staff, they need every penny they can get.
Many restaurants and pubs are operating at 50% capacity, due to social distancing, and most remain in survival mode. While the doors are open, not everyone is buying.
Covid-19 hasn’t just crashed the economy by creating a three-month lockdown. It has also hammered consumer confidence.
Early indications around the UK are that the VAT cut hasn’t led to an upsurge in demand. People aren’t suddenly rushing to buy food and drink because it’s a few pence cheaper – they’re staying home where there’s no risk of contracting Covid.
The hospitality sector hasn’t noticed much difference yet and it looks as though Rishi Sunak won’t be footing a £4 billion bill after all, it will be far, far lower.
At Bentley Bridge on Wednesday night, there were some signs of life. The large, out-of-town leisure and retail park might normally expect to be buzzing as crowds descended on a cinema, plenty of large stores and a swathe of big-name restaurant chains.
Instead, there were modest queues at KFC, a few stragglers looking for a McBurger and acres of empty car parking space.
Nando’s has two branches in Wolverhampton – one at Bentley Bridge and the other in the city’s Queen Street. The Bentley Bridge branch is closed for in-store dining but offers a seriously efficient click-and-collect service.
The operational details are simple. You visit the Nando’s website, create an account (it takes a minute) then scroll down a menu, ticking boxes when you wish to order goods. You pay, select a five-minute time slot to collect your order and a confirmation email pings into your inbox. Simples.
At the restaurant, there are two tables in an area where once there were doors. They prevent people entering the restaurant and are the collection point for those who have ordered.
You arrive, provide a name, staff head to the kitchen and your order is retrieved. Happy eating.
While other large chains have been inundated with queues, Nando’s has been typically well-organised and remains one step ahead of the competition. Of course, if all of that sounds like too much faff, you simply get them to deliver – what a time to be alive.
Such services may be short-lived as the restaurant chain works hard to reopen more branches in the coming weeks.
It’s goal is a resumption of normal trade – and it’s not difficult to understand why.
While tables might normally be packed eating peri peri chicken and beanie wraps, it’s now having to survive on the loose change of a maximum of 12 customers per hour. There are no impromptu slots available, everything has to be pre-ordered online.
It’s worth the effort for Nando’s continues to provide healthy, fairly-priced food in hygienic surrounds with an efficient system for ordering.
My midweek order was delivered within a minute of my arrival for collection; it was simpler than eating in a restaurant – and I didn’t have to put up with gangs of excitable teens shouting before they went to see a movie. Result.
The food was great; it always is. A halloumi starter with a separate pot of chilli jam was wonderful. Salty and with the regulation rubbery-but-enjoyable texture, it was perfectly matched with sweet and heat that came from the jam. The halloumi had been neatly scorched, adding a mild caramel flavour and a fabulous crunch too.
My main was chicken butterfly; two chicken breasts joined by a crispy skin. The skin had probably once been crisp, though the unavoidable conundrum facing takeaways is that most crunchy skin goes soft by the time you get it home, as the skin had.
The chicken, however, was delicious. A longer resting time meant it had reached peak tenderness and moistness and the medium-heat seasoning gave it an alluring warmth. It was the gastronomic equivalent of sitting in front of a pub fire in autumn; enough to give you an all-round, Ready Brek glow.
It was served with peri-peri fries and rice; the fries being so tempting that I had to break into them on the journey home and eat them straight from the box. Peri-peri seasoning does strange things to a man. The rice was fine, nothing special, adding ballast to our takeaway.
A 24-carat slice of cake was culinary gold. The Nando’s carrot cake was moist with rich golden laywers. Jewelled with walnuts, pineapple and raisins, it was crowned with creamy cheese icing and provided a perfect counterpoint to the hot-but-not-scorchio food.
A refreshing Nix and Kix Cucumber Mint washed it all down, providing a cayenne kick in a lightly sparkling drink.
The guy at the window was perfectly pleasant, the food delicious and Nando’s earns an extra mark for passing on the VAT discount.
When it comes to fast food, Nando’s has it down to a fine art.
Spicy mixed olives, £3.25
Peri-peri nuts, £3.25
Halloumi sticks and dip, £3.45
Half chicken, £6.75
Five chicken wings, £5.20
Four boneless chicken thighs, £6.95
Spicy rice, £2.30
Corn on the cob, £2.30
Macho peas, £2.30
Gooey caramel cheesecake, £4.15
Choc-a-lot cake, £4.15
White chocolate and raspberry cheesecake, £4.15
Bentley Bridge, Wednesfield, Way Unit 4b, Bentley Bridge Leisure Park, Wolverhampton WV11 1TZ