Food Loss and Waste in Fish Value Chains

The New Normal in the Restaurant and Catering Industry – Takeaway

Omar Peñarubia, 24 September 2020

The closure of restaurant and catering services due to COVID-19 has had a huge economic impact, and the pandemic may be far from over. However, some restaurants and food establishments have resumed their business operations despite the fear of a new wave of infections. This reopening of businesses should slowly help revive economies and sustain employment. To ensure safety, the resumption of the restaurant and catering sector has been in line with government decrees to promote improved sanitation, the use of face coverings and physical distancing. 

This has caused the re-structuring of restaurants, including layout tweaks and design interventions, such as the provision of dividers and adequate spacing to ensure physical distancing. Some restaurants have revised their menus and provided QR codes for menus on phones to reduce social interaction and infection spread risks. These changes all require additional investment. As this might not be economically feasible, especially after some months of closure, some restaurants have opted to offer takeaway services, which is a shift of focus from what was previously a small percentage of restaurant operations.

Some fine dining restaurants in the US and the UK have shifted to provide drive-thru and takeaway services and have revised their menus from molecular gastronomy to comfort foods. The idea is not to veer away from serving great tasting meals, but to slowly resume restaurant operations and rehire staff, while capturing a bigger market with a new set of menu items.

In most developing countries, the return of small food establishments could be difficult as they need to comply to the stricter food safety policy of the government. It is even more difficult for food-cart businesses and street food vendors, as the costs of complying with public-health regulations will be unsustainable. Furthermore, some consumers still have doubts about the safety of  street foods. 

Although governments have eased lockdowns, many people still prefer to stay at home and reduce their social interactions. Takeaway services can provide a variety of foods that consumers crave while reducing the possibility of being exposed to COVID-19. Furthermore, it is a good alternative to food delivery without the delivery fees. 

Fried fish is synonymous with takeaway food, partly because it has a convenient shelf-life and is less prone to damage during handling, where products like sushi and sashimi require special handling as they are highly perishable. A sturdy packaging material is also needed to avoid deformation and rapid spoilage. 

Offering takeaway services might be a good way to slowly return to the market. However, restaurant must strictly follow food safety practices like wearing of personal protective equipment, personal hygiene, and ensuring that personnel are fit to work, which means that they must not be suffering from, or carrying, an illness or disease that could cause a food safety issue.

As for the safety of the consumers, it is highly encouraged to maintain good hygiene practices like wiping down or proper disposal of packaging, washing and sanitation of hands thoroughly before and after handling foods. 

The restaurant and catering sector may be becoming more dependent on takeaway trade. This could see a rise in the interest in products such as fried fish, and at the same time poses additional demands in terms of handling, hygiene and packaging, especially when high risk raw fish products are involved. Caterers should think about ways in which they can help consumers reduce food loss and waste. This may mean providing better packaging material and raising awareness of how food loss and waste can be controlled in the home, such as how to preserve and use any leftover food, providing guidance on portion size and creating menus which reduce consumer over-purchasing.