Covid-19: Malaysian F&B operators fighting to stay alive by being innovative with their delivery menus

Lee Khang Yi
Chipta11a has started a delivery menu featuring bento sets like this one with Black Angus beef tenderloin and red snapper — Picture from Chipta11a's Instagram

KUALA LUMPUR, April 5 — Some eateries that did not offer a delivery option before the Movement Control Order (MCO) had to very quickly think about how (and in what form) they can deliver food to their customers.

These steps are also how they're fighting to stay in business.

When the MCO was announced, Chipta11a wasn't set up for delivery. Opened at the end of December last year, Chipta11a prided itself for its curated dining.

You got to chat with chef-owner Jack Weldie over the counter about what inspired his innovative food creations such as cured fish, sushi with rice mixed with his own-made asam jawa and so forth.

Moving as quickly as he could, Weldie together with his wife Diane Ong came up with a takeaway or delivery menu for Chipta11a and their other place, Awesome Canteen.

Since Weldie's forte was Japanese, Chipta11a offered rice bowls and bento sets with sashimi and Wagyu beef while Awesome Canteen offered a selection from their dine-in menu.

One interesting additional offer from Awesome Canteen is their uncooked signature patties, available in chicken and beef, for RM7 and RM9.

At the cafe, these are used in their paleo dishes and burgers. Sealed in plastic, you can easily cook them at home later.

You are also given the option to accompany these with their house-made sauces or salad dressing. "We do our patties and sauces, which is unique to us. It's like some makcik who makes sambal and sells them," said Ong.

Prior to the MCO, Ong already had plans to offer the sauces for sale.

One of the new delivery menu items for Awesome Canteen is fried chicken maki roll — Picture from Awesome Canteen's Instagram

The idea to offer the uncooked patties is out of the box for food delivery since most eateries focus on cooked items.

"We're doing everything we can to sustain the business. In times of desperation, the mind starts to work wonders," said Ong.

It was the right move. Regulars snapped up the patties to recreate their own meals at home. "Many people are really fond of our patties and they know it is really tasty plus super convenient, " explained Ong.

This also meant a hot meal, something you don't often get when you opt for food delivery.

Judging from the good response, Ong plans to offer the patties for sale even after the MCO is lifted. The crisis has also made them rethink their business strategy going forward.

Ong explained that "we realised how vulnerable we are to depend on just one stream of income which is the dine-in customers. We have a well-formulated product so why don't we offer it to the public."

Two weeks into the MCO, they started to notice trends that made them rework the menus. "It's a rude realisation that our old menu doesn't work with our target audience who now has all the time in the world to cook.

"We needed to offer items that they can't do so easily at home," explained Ong. Hence the new menu includes additions such as fried chicken maki roll, fish and chips and breadcrumbed squid pesto pasta.

Awesome Canteen started offering their own-made patties and sauces to customers — Picture from Awesome Canteen's Instagram
Awesome Canteen still offers their crowd favourite 'mee pok with chicken and mushrooms' — Picture from Awesome Canteen's Instagram

Similarly at Littlepeople, a cafe along Old Klang Road, they have decided to offer quarantine starter packs of their handmade pasta. Each pack contains their three portions of their fresh pasta — a choice of pink beetroot pasta, tagliatelle or hand-cut pappardelle — accompanied with their own-made sauces like pesto, carbonara and four-hours slow roasted tomatoes.

You can use whatever from your refrigerator for your protein but they do offer add-ons like crab meat or duck bacon.

If you're a dunce when it comes to cooking, there's no need to fret as they give you clear instructions to follow or even videos on their Instagram to guide you all the way.

If you run out of milk and don't want to queue at the supermarket, Soul Sacrifice at Desa Pandan is offering milk or alternate milks such as almond, oat, coconut or soy milk at their cafe.

You can also pick up their own-baked sourdough bread, cooked meals or coffee brewed by them, via delivery service with your milk.

There are three types of handmade pasta paired with various sauces in Littlepeople's quarantine starter pack — Picture from Littlepeople's Instagram
If you don't want to queue for bread, Littlepeople is also baking up their fluffy cloudy milk bread — Picture from Littlepeople's Instagram

In Sunbather Coffee's case, an initial trial for a few days saw the Bangsar South cafe facing delivery issues so they took a short breather.

Taking that step back gave the owners — Beh Kok Boon, Beh Kok Aun and Beh Chew Yeng — time to focus on what they wanted to do.

They recently started their delivery services again with a menu of favourites from their cafe. Regulars will notice a marked difference in the delivery menu's pricing which is now 20 per cent less.

This makes it kinder on their customers' wallets during this difficult time. For example, at Sunbather, their chicken hambagu is RM26, while it is RM20.80 on the delivery menu.

Craving a good sando? Try ordering Sunbather Coffee's Ajitsuke Tamago Sando (left) or Maple Peanut Chicken sando (right) — Picture from Sunbather Coffee's Facebook
Sunbather Coffee is offering a choice of cooked chicken or beef Hambagu. You can also purchase the pre-cooked hambagu for a cheaper price — Picture from Sunbather Coffee's Facebook

Kok Aun explained, "We think cafe food might be too luxurious at a time like this and we also notice people are price sensitive because of the uncertainty." Moreover they recognise that with delivery, quality will drop a little for the food.

What they also noticed was how delivery services could be slow. Sometimes, delivery riders may arrive late which result in customers receiving cold food. 

Taking this into consideration, they launched their range of pre-cooked and pre-made meals that one can heat up or easily cook at home.

This includes Japanese curry, beef ragu, sous vide chicken breast and hambagu. Prices for these are much lower, making it worth your time to stock up a few packs.

For instance, the chicken hambagu is RM13 with sauce. Kok Aun tells us, they have split their usual 200 grams portion into two, which makes it easier for people to cook at home.

As the items are all sealed in plastic bags, no one can tamper with the food. All you need to do is heat up the food to get a hot, delicious meal in the comfort of your home.

Kok Aun explained, "We think customers are quite free at home so they would be happy to do a little extra for their meals and enjoy the food at a lower price." It is also not easy to recreate those items at home. Sunbather has spent many hours testing to perfect their juicy hambagu. Even their beef ragu involves six hours of slow cooking.

"The business is quite uncertain and we can only move as fast as we can and find a way to sustain the business. To be honest, we have been making new decisions every day," he said.

Moreover, they had to limit the number of staff working for everyone's well-being. "We cannot afford a full kitchen operation," said Kok Aun.

One trend Kok Aun noticed is their desserts sell well, like their signature roll cakes. "Maybe because people cook at home and they want more desserts," he said.

Some orders have come from as far as Shah Alam and even Sungai Long, for their fluffy cakes filled with cream. They are considering possible bulk sales for the roll cakes.

You can send Matcha roll cakes to friends or a birthday from Sunbather Coffee during the MCO — Picture from Kakiyuki's Facebook

There's a growing number of restaurants offering different options to customers, like Charline asado + bar. The restaurant in Bukit Damansara has a menu that has cooked food and meal boxes.

The fun is in their meal boxes which are pre-packed with all the ingredients needed to cook up your meal at home. This also means no grocery runs.

There are five choices available; from eggplant with tofu rice bowl at RM12 to more luxurious meals like pan seared duck breast with orange and glazed carrots for RM32.

You can also cook up a steak sandwich with caramelised onions and bone marrow, using their mealbox for RM25.

Charline asado + bar is challenging you to cook at home with their mealbox where all the ingredients are packed for you — Picture from Charline's Facebook

Even Skillet@163 and their sister restaurant Beta KL have launched DIY meals, offering super luxurious dining within the confines of your home.

The kits offer the likes of pan seared foie gras, lobster pasta, pan seared scallops with risotto and even a plated dessert (Musang King durian mousse anyone?), with instructional videos to guide you through.

You just need to pan-sear or heat up ingredients and have fun plating the dishes. It's not completely like dining out in a restaurant where you get the full service but it's the best option if you want to indulge in a fine meal during the MCO.

The restaurant world has definitely changed. What doesn't change though is the spirit of the F&B entrepreneurs who are willing to do their best to stay afloat. Some even leave little thank you notes on the boxes to connect with their customers.

Skillet@163 and their sister restaurant Beta KL launched their DIY meal sets that allows you to make this confit 'pongteh' duck leg at home — Picture from Skillet@163's Facebook
When you cannot see your customer, little notes such as this helps to connect with them — Picture from Skillet@163's Facebook

In the beginning, even Ong wanted to throw in the towel. "Honestly I was on the verge but we cannot go down without a good fight so we keep going on by changing ourselves to remain relevant and until the market spits us out, we will not quit. Not yet."

What makes her hopeful is her pleas for people to order from their tweaked menu were heard and orders poured in. "I heart moments like this and that is why I am determined to keep on fighting."

She hopes to reach out to more and start going on Instagram Live to talk about their work.

Awesome Canteen
Instagram: @awesome_canteen

Charline asado + bar
Instagram: @charline_kl

Instagram: @chipta_11a

Little People
Instagram: @littlepeople_

Soul Sacrifice
Instagram: @soulsac

Sunbather Coffee


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