Takeaway has lost much of its lustre, thanks to months of lockdowns and unreliable delivery apps losing or cancelling orders. But regulars of Italian restaurant Supermaxi in Fitzroy North know that when they order pizza on a Wednesday or Thursday, it's not just going to come hot, it'll be delivered in a 1975 Alfa Romeo convertible.
"When COVID started, we decided we didn't want to go with the delivery platforms," says Giovanni Patane, who owns the restaurant with his wife, legendary chef Rita Macali. "I thought 'I'll start delivering with my own cars'."
Patane has collected vintage cars for more than 20 years and owns five different Alfa Romeos. The ivory-coloured Spider, which matches the restaurant's white and cream interiors, is the delivery car, though.
"The Spider lends itself really well to delivery. You can throw the delivery bags in easily, it has good access, you can have the roof down. It's a really nice way to get things done."
Fridays and Saturdays are too busy for the team to keep up with orders, so the restaurant switches to pick-up only. But mid-week, the car is out on the road.
"It's just a bit of fun," says Patane. "Maybe it'll make someone smile. I mean, how beautiful to see an old car deliver your food. They're almost like little pieces of art on the move."
Patane's reservations about using delivery apps such as Uber Eats have been borne out in recent months as restaurants have been left with thousands of dollars of uncollected food and angry customers, with few answers from the tech giants that operate the platforms. A story by this masthead in July showed that a lack of Uber Eats drivers had led to the system buckling under the pressure of a locked-down city where demand for delivery has soared.
"They bombarded us many years ago with these offers," says Patane of the apps. "I questioned them. What if you can't get [food] to them? What if the system goes down? Who's responsible? No one could give you an answer."
Mister Bianco chef and owner Joseph Vargetto is encouraging other businesses to get off delivery platforms for the same reasons. Last week, he shared a post on Instagram drawing attention to the problems that uncollected Uber Eats orders cause for restaurants.
"I put the post up to get more businesses to think about other options," says Vargetto. "They have cars. There's government support payments for staff at the moment."
Vargetto has never used Uber Eats at his Kew restaurant, instead launching his own delivery service very early in the pandemic called The Italian Job, powered by a fleet of Mini Coopers in a nod to the 1969 film starring Michael Caine. What was a tongue-in-cheek name has become a lifeline for his staff and a hit with customers seeking some light in lockdown.
"A lot of people want to see the Mini and come outside when we drop off their food," he says
After being offered two vehicles from the Doncaster dealership, Vargetto and his team now rely on six cars to get their deliveries to customers.
"I'm so grateful because if they hadn't done it, we just wouldn't be delivering."
Restaurants are keenly aware that they're bringing people more than just dinner during this period and are stepping up.
"People get a real kick out of having someone in a suit deliver their takeaway food and chat about their wine match," says Kylie Staddon, operations manager at three-hatted Ripponlea restaurant Attica.
Head sommelier, Dom Robinson, will head out on the road in what he would normally wear while working at the restaurant, delivering handpicked wines to those who add them to their takeaway.
"Anyone can open a bottle of wine at home," says Clinton McIver, chef and owner of fine-diner Amaru in Armadale. His team dial things up by pairing five different premium wines with Amaru's five-course menu, decanting them into small bottles and including details on the winemaker, grape and region for $100 a head.
There's also an Amaru Spotify playlist compiled by the whole team, which people can listen to while they prepare the menu at home (which requires some heating and plating) and sit down to eat.
"Most people that order are looking for that restaurant experience," says McIver. "We notice that they'll set the table really nice, get out nice crockery, light candles – they go all out."
Fellow fine-diner Vue de Monde has also created a playlist for customers, opting for an Australiana theme featuring Men At Work and Goanna to match its latest menu of marron cocktails, lamingtons and damper. The restaurant also uses recyclable packaging that reflects its emphasis on sustainability.
Attica won't soundtrack your dinner, but the staff will introduce each course, much as they would if you were dining at the restaurant. A QR code printed on the menu is linked to videos of different team members sharing the story behind each dish.
Delivery apps are undoubtedly number one for convenience but service that goes the extra mile remains the domain of restaurants, even while their doors are closed.