Karin and Roy Brett, owners of Ondine, one of Edinburgh’s best-known seafood restaurants, talk about pivoting the business to launch ‘Ondine at home’.
Ondine has been voted Scottish restaurant of the year for the past two years, a testament to the owners’ passion for seafood and hard work over more than a decade.
Before the coronavirus situation, Ondine’s restaurant often filled its 80-cover capacity with both locals and tourists, but the introduction of social distancing had a catastrophic impact on business.
“Business first began to drop off in January as we noticed fewer and fewer tourists coming from China,” says co-owner Karin Brett. “We knew we needed to take the bull by the horns to survive.” With early indications of a big slowdown in trade, the couple acted quickly to engage with their Barclays Relationship Manager, Richie Paul, to discuss the options.
They have since had to take the difficult decision to furlough most of their staff, applied to the Scottish government for a pivotal resilience grant, and taken advantage of a Bounce Back Loan through Barclays to help pay overheads and supply costs.
Reconnecting with customers
After trialling the concept with friends, Karin and Roy have now launched ‘Ondine at home’, which brings their fine dining experience direct to customers. “We’re currently offering a new three-course set menu with a bottle of wine,” explains Karin. “We’ve invested in packaging and include a recipe card with instructions on how best to cook and serve the food.”
At the moment, Karin and Roy are offering ‘Ondine at home’ twice a week, serving up to 160 people. Customers can order and pay in advance over the phone, and choose their preferred time slot for collection or delivery.
“We’ve had really amazing feedback, with orders growing from 25 to 80 couples in our first two weeks,” Karin says. “We’ve even had to take one employee off furlough to support demand. We’re also selling any excess food via local fish and cheesemongers.”
While word-of-mouth has been their most successful marketing strategy, they have also advertised through Instagram, Twitter, email and their website.
With support from their accountant and Richie at Barclays, Karin and Roy are regularly reviewing the sustainability of their new venture. “We’re now looking into how customers could order online, and working with Barclaycard to support online payments.”
There is still a lot of uncertainty about when the restaurant will be able to reopen, and how they’ll be able to operate while ensuring staff and customer safety. “We’ll continue with ‘Ondine at home’ for as long as there is demand for it,” says Karin. “We realise a lot of people may be wary of visiting restaurants for some time to come.” In the meantime, Karin is keeping in touch with her team on their WhatsApp group and is encouraging furloughed staff to upskill through online courses in food hygiene.
Karin and Roy have also connected with similar businesses dealing with the coronavirus situation. “Every week we have an online catch up with restaurateurs from across Scotland to discuss how to move forward and how we can help each other. We’re all trying to stay as positive as we can.”