Etta restaurant test drives dishes to see how food fares on a delivery trip

Hannah Green, from Etta in Lygon Street, has been testing dishes for delivery.
Hannah Green, from Etta in Lygon Street, has been testing dishes for delivery.  Photo: Jason South

When Hannah Green opened her Brunswick restaurant Etta three years ago, she built it around a warm welcome and making people feel at home. Food delivery was the opposite of what she had in mind.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has caused business to plummet and when the phone rings, it's usually a diner calling to say they're not coming.

"I've just taken a cancellation of 16 for Saturday night," she says. "There's no way I'm going to charge a cancellation fee. I totally understand that people want to stay home."

Etta is staying open for now but Green and her team of 14 are also starting to offer delivery to keep customers fed and money coming in.

"I thought buying out my business partner last year was the hardest thing I'd ever done," she says. "But that all changed this week. This is such a big curve ball but you just have to make it work."

Today, the team are looking at their menu to work out which dishes travel well. She's confident their fire-roasted chicken will pass the test, as well as a dish of smoked and fresh tomatoes with whipped chickpeas.

In busier times: With diners cancelling amid the virus crisis, Etta is not as busy as it was.
In busier times: With diners cancelling amid the virus crisis, Etta is not as busy as it was. Photo: Bonnie Savage

To be sure a car trip doesn't wreck their lovingly prepared food, the Etta crew are doing test delivery runs, loading the dishes into Green's car and driving them around for 15 minutes to see how they fare.

"We feel we have to," she says. "Bumping around in a car is different to leaving it to sit on the bench."

She plans to share delivery duties with her staff. "We're lucky because the business owns the car, so my staff are insured to drive it," she says. "There are so many unprecedented things to think about."

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Restaurant and Catering Industry Association chief executive Wes Lambert understands why restaurants would try delivery for the first time. "Restaurants are down between 10 per cent and 100 per cent," he says.

"It's dire. We welcome delivery as a way to keep businesses going, to keep on as many employees as possible."

In St Kilda, Radio Mexico owner Adele Arkell is also making big changes. Today she's moved to outdoor tables only, in an effort to limit the time both staff and customers spend in enclosed spaces.

She's sharing footpath furniture with the daytime-only Galleon cafe next door. "They'll use our tables during the day and we'll use theirs at night," she says.

Arkell made the decision on Tuesday morning after feeling nervous watching staff and customers interact over dinner Monday night.

"Seeing my staff picking up people's plates and serviettes freaked me out," she says.

"This is a touch industry: we touch to serve, we touch screens, there's touch in our camaraderie. I feel like my staff are so exposed."

Staff will now wear gloves and food will be served on disposable plates.

"I hate disposables, but what can you do?" says Arkell. "I think we'll be shut down by the end of the week so let's make hay while the sun shines – and it actually is shining this week."

Hannah Green in Brunswick has been bewildered but she's now optimistic.

"Now that I've made a decision, I feel fine and ready to charge on," she says. "My community is so supportive. I know we'll survive this."