COVID-19 restrictions sees drive-through businesses boom as customers avoid supermarkets, keep their distance


April 26, 2020 15:44:13

Contact-free shopping has increased in popularity as Australians adhere to coronavirus physical distancing guidelines, with takeaway being the trend.

Key points:

  • Drive-through shopping is booming in a Ballarat bakery and a Warnambool butcher store and allows customers and workers to be socially distant
  • The Golden Nugget Bakery says its drive-through has been “extremely busy” and has been a “saving grace” for business
  • At Lucas Brothers Butchers the drive-through has increased “twofold” and allows customers to view products from inside their cars

Having a drive-through function as part of their businesses has kept many restaurant franchises open, but it is not just the big companies that are taking advantage of this business model.

In western Victoria two small businesses had drive-through systems in place before the pandemic and business is booming.

Colin Matthews owns Golden Nugget Bakery in Ballarat and says cars are cueing down the street to utilise the service.

“The drive-through has been extremely busy, but the shop has been quiet,” he said.

“It’s really the drive-through that people are wanting to use.

“It’s been a saving grace for us — people do enjoy that for the social distancing aspect of it.”

Boost for small business

Mr Matthews says when business is at its peak it is hard to keep up with the demand.

“It’s all about speed and efficiency for us to try and get people through the drive-through as quickly as we can.

“Our amazing customers have been so loyal and so good to us through this period.”

Rather than shopping at large supermarkets, Mr Matthews says many people are embracing local stores.

“I think a little bit of it is returning to the nostalgic era of going to the bakery,” he said.

“Many people are coming through and ordering large orders to take home to heat in the oven and have with the family, which I remember as a little boy — that was our Saturday lunch.”

“Those [trends] have come back because of everybody being forced to be at home.”

Keen for contact-free service

Mr Matthews has noticed a change in consumer behaviour, especially among customers most vulnerable to COVID-19.

“The elderly, who used to be quite reluctant to come through the drive-through, are utilising it a lot more for simple things like bread and milk, to save going to the supermarket,” he said.

This is a trend that Peter Harris, owner of Lucas Brothers Butchers in Warrnambool is noticing too.

His butcher store also has a drive-through service, which allows express shoppers to park undercover and queue in their cars rather than wait outside when the shop reaches its customer limit.

“Customers can view, from in their cars, the products in the shop,” Mr Harris said.

“We’ve limited the number of people who are allowed in the shop. People have abided by that and it’s worked really well for us.

“People aren’t wanting to roam the aisles for their meat, so our drive-through has increased twofold.”

Panic buying throws curve ball

Mr Harris said business has not always been so optimistic during the lockdown.

“It was so scary when it first started, we didn’t know what hit us,” he said.

“We worried we were going to run out of product, it wasn’t just customers panic buying, butchers were panic buying too.”

In the earliest stages of the restrictions Mr Harris said produce supply could not keep up with consumer demand.

“We were doing a huge amount of sausages but it was the beef mince that increased heaps and heaps,” he said.

“We had to resort to mincing some premium cuts just to keep up with the mince.

“Chicken was very scarce. No-one could keep up with the demand for chicken and it’s finally caught up as of the last week as the panic buying has slowed down.”

What the experts are saying about coronavirus:

Golden Nugget Bakery also had problems sourcing produce to bake its products, including dairy and meat.

“It has been difficult. That first week my butcher rang me and said, ‘We’re in a heap of trouble, I don’t know if we’re going to have any meat’,” Mr Matthews said.

“It’s been very challenging. The unknown has been the scary part.

“We’re just trying to navigate through the chaos of it all.”

But both businesses are thankful for the community support and hope that once the restrictions ease people will continue to shop locally.

“I think people have changed their shopping habits and are using butchers, greengrocers and the bakeries a lot more,” Mr Harris said.

“So that’s been really good for us in these unfortunate times.”

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First posted

April 26, 2020 15:40:57

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