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Making It Work: Chap Drive Thru supports Melbourne eateries

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A growing group of restaurants in East Melbourne has launched Chap Drive Thru to help stay open in tough times and give consumers a new way to pick up their takeaway.

More than 200 cafes and restaurants across South Yarra, Prahran and Windsor, which make up Australia's largest retail and entertainment precinct, have created the world's largest drive-thru at 2.8km.

Takeaways and delivery orders have been part of the Australian restaurant landscape since COVID regulations came into force in March. But Chapel Street Precinct Association (CSPA) general manager Chrissie Maus says delivery apps take a disproportionate percentage of sales which is hurting local restaurateurs.

making it work chapel street chap drive thru

This initiative sees Chapel Street's restaurants and cafes banding together to encourage locals to order directly and personally pick up their takeaway order so more money goes to Australian hospitality workers.

Under pressure

Once restrictions were enforced, the majority of CSPA's 2200 businesses on and around Chapel Street were badly affected, including retail shops, beauty parlours, gyms, restaurants and cafes.

Chap Drive Thru was borne out of a need to make lemonade out of lemons, Maus says.

Although takeaway systems were already in place with delivery apps, one of the questions that Maus had to ask her team was: "How in the hell are we able to tackle this as David vs Goliath delivery apps that are taking 30-35% of the bottom line of traders? How can we get people to pick it up safely and get something out there that people will love?"

At the beginning of May, those 200 restaurants and cafes banded together to encourage locals to order locally and pick up their deliveries in person.

"Our businesses are getting savvy with their takeaway offerings - some are doing cocktails - and this way people can enjoy their favourite dishes safely and help our businesses keep staff employed and businesses afloat," says Maus.

Offerings include five-course degustation-style menus from Atlas Dining and pizza from family-run Italian, as well as Greek, Thai, and Chinese, and vegan and halal options.

Chapel Street icon Caffe e Cucina, where A-list stars dine while in Melbourne, is among those offering takeaway.

Learning to adapt

The first businesses affected had to close their doors immediately.

"Clubs and restaurants had no choice which was super scary for them. Some of those businesses have gone into selling facemasks and sanitisers, and provide DJ sets to help people in isolation," Maus says.

Lucky Penny in South Yarra turned from a cafe into a grocery store overnight.

"Gyms also had to close but they were the first to innovate quickly in a way for clients to engage with them online. Vision Personal Training in Prahran had, within 24 hours, offered their digital online version. They anticipated and started planning as soon as COVID-19 started being mentioned.

"From there the takeaways emerged, and some restaurants prepared freezer meals such as Ladro on Greville Street.

"I wanted to make sure that we showcased the businesses who were innovating and pivoting. We needed to show that we applaud the brave."

By early May, most eateries had re-opened as they watched what others were doing, and Chapel Drive Thru has helped, Maus says.

Staying afloat

Chapel Drive Thru was four weeks in the making. It kicked off with a Making Lemonade out of Lemons campaign, led by renowned AFL legend and Brownlow Medallist Dane Swan.

"Chapel Street is my stomping ground and I've found all the small businesses around here are run by good, hard-working Australians - and many of them I count as friends," Swan says.

"I'm just like any loyal Melburnian, when your mates are in a crisis, you do whatever you can.

"For example a simple and very effective way to support our local restaurants is to order directly rather than using home delivery - this ensures all the money goes to the business so it can stay afloat and keep staff employed."

Businesses have been eager to jump onboard the initiative.

"They are all for anything that helps them. There is a handful of restaurants that have opened because of this initiative and others are applauding this because it's celebrating not using the delivery apps," Maus says.

About half of the eateries are currently open for business but Maus says that is starting to increase slowly as consumers regain confidence in the

"Consumers are confident now that they feel it is safe to drive and collect their food and maintain social distancing."

How it works

You call the eatery directly, order your meal and let the restaurant or cafe know your number plate and what you are driving. They will tell you when it's ready, package the meal in meal in takeaway containers and deliver the meal to your car.

The aim of the new system "is to ensure we can safely give food to people while maintaining social distancing", Maus says.

"You can park out the front of the restaurant.

"The idea has now gone global and other precincts have wanted to roll out similar things. We're leading the way. We need to be the most empathic and bold and try things as soon as possible."

The future

This campaign can continue beyond restrictions, Maus says.

"The innovation consequences of COVID is that people will now understand if you buy your food through a delivery app you are really hurting the business, and the only person benefiting from that is the delivery app owner.

"Every decision I've made has been based on what is best for our businesses, and what is ethically the right decision, so when this is over I can come out and look people in the eye and say we've done the right thing.

"Every decision needs to be consumer-led."

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Julia Newbould is a financial writer and commentator with a background in journalism. She was previously editor of Financial Planning and Super Review magazines; managing editor at InvestorInfo and at Morningstar Australia. Julia co-authored The Joy of Money, a book on women and personal finance. She holds a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Sydney where she serves on the alumni council.
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