Closures, Takeouts and Contactless: Rethinking Restaurants: Interview with Daniel Wiesner

Closures, Takeouts and Contactless: Rethinking Restaurants: Interview with Daniel Wiesner

By
Arman Anatürk
April 23, 2020

Truth is, it’s not a great time to be in the restaurant industry right now. With the lockdown already in effect for several weeks, owners are having to make tough choices about the future of their businesses.

Many have shifted online to keep orders coming in, working with third-delivery platforms that are eating into their margins. Others have decided to cut their losses and close their doors hoping they’ll be in a position to reopen again. But what does a post-COVID restaurant look like and will things ever really go ‘back to normal’ ?

I reached out to Daniel Wiesner, COO at Fredy Weisner Gastronomie, a family-run business that operates 32 restaurants in Switzerland and employs over 600 staff, to find out how they’ve been coping with COVID and how he sees the future of their business.

Daniel Wiesner, COO at Fredy Weisner Gastronomie
Daniel Wiesner, COO at Fredy Weisner Gastronomie

  • FoodHack: Can you set the scene for me? How has your business been affected by the Coronavirus?

    Daniel:
    When the lockdown came into place, we chose to close most of our restaurants due to the decrease in demand. As we had been doing delivery and takeaway with our restaurants before coronavirus, this allowed us to keep 10 out of our 30 restaurants operational during this period. It's a nice little income but overall we've been hit quite hard. We can continue like this for a few months, but if the crisis goes on for many more months longer it will be a tough stretch.


  • Can you quantify the loss / growth for us?

    Daniel:
    Roughly, we’re doing 25% what we typically do. Yes, we’ve seen the delivery business triple or in some cases quadruple, but when you factor in the closure of two-thirds of our restaurants and all the delivery commissions and driver fees, the margin we’re left with is a fraction of what it previously was.

Restaurant Miss Miu | Image © Fredy Wiesner Gastronomie
Restaurant Miss Miu | Image © Fredy Wiesner Gastronomie

  • Was it easy to make the shift to a delivery and takeaway only model?

    Daniel:
    We're lucky to have already been quite active in the restaurant delivery business and have a strong customer base online. So in terms of driving the demand, it was really a matter of reactivating these existing customers through some marketing and also being active on third party delivery platforms like Uber Eats, Smood, Takeaway.com, and Eat.ch, to get in front of as many customers as possible.

    What was difficult was adapting all our processes and our operating system in the restaurants. All of a sudden we were seeing 3 to 4 times more online orders than usual, so at the beginning we actually had some delays with fulfilling orders and it took us around two weeks of twice-daily meetings and training in order to optimize our process. Now we’re back on track and have reduced the delays to a small amount.


  • In terms of the menu, did you have to make any adjustment for the online orders or is it your standard in-restaurant menu?

    Daniel:
    When it comes to delivery, all the orders are coming in at the same time and so keeping the menu small makes it more manageable on the cooks, though on the other hand, you still need to have a large enough range that people want to order. In the end, we ended up taking off about one-third of the items and keeping mostly high margin items that do well for delivery.

  • When it comes to the different delivery platforms, what's the split you're seeing between your own delivery platform and then the third-party platforms you’re on?

    Daniel:
    Most of the orders come in from our own delivery platform. But this is also because we've been promoting it for many years and have an existing customer base there. Eat.ch is also strong and we’ve only recently started with Uber Eats, which is growing quite fast.

  • Should delivery platforms be cutting commissions at this time?

    Daniel:
    In my opinion, if the goal is really to help the restaurants, then yes, they should cut the commission. I've seen that happen in the States but not yet here in Switzerland. At the end of the day, it's their business model and their choice. But we're still on good terms with all of the delivery platforms and typically when we ask them for some promotion they’re happy to help us.

  • What type of marketing are you doing during this time to acquire customers?

    Daniel:
    It's a combination of email promotion, which we send out twice a week, daily social media like on Instagram and Facebook, Google Adwords and we still do some traditional mail advertising, which to be honest, is the one that works the most, especially in the urban areas like in Zurich or in Basel.

  • Interesting. What are you sending in the post?

    Daniel:
    Simple things, like vouchers and discounts to order online.

  • Is that mostly for new customers or is it solely existing customers?

    Daniel:
    For the mail advertising, it’s all existing customers. It’s not a channel that works well for acquiring new customers. But we do use Google AdWords which has been driving a lot of new customers recently.

  • You mentioned you had to close two thirds or restaurants, what happens to your staff during that time?

    Daniel:
    Luckily, because of Switzerland’s short-time wage subsidy program, we're able to pay all our staff during this time. So in all of the closed restaurants, our staff are at home waiting until we're open and the state is covering their salaries for now.

Restaurant The Butcher | Image © Fredy Wiesner Gastronomie
Restaurant The Butcher | Image © Fredy Wiesner Gastronomie

  • When do you think things will go back to normality and you'll be able to open up your restaurants again?

    Daniel:
    I guess the restaurants will be open at the beginning of June. But this is just my own opinion. I hope that it won't be like before the shutdown where we were limited to a maximum of 50 people in a restaurant. Most restaurants can't do business this way, you just end up losing money. So this is what we're currently waiting on right now, to hear from the State on the next actions and regulations.


  • Do you think all restaurants right now should be online? I've seen some have chosen to shut down during this period, and others are really pushing online deliveries. What would you advise?

    Daniel:
    In my opinion, if you haven't done delivery before, you shouldn’t do delivery now. The thing is, you need a certain amount of demand and dishes sold per day. And if you don't have that, it doesn't make sense to pay your staff to come in for the day and cook only a handful of meals. This is the reason why we closed two-thirds of our restaurants. We tried to keep more of them open for a longer period but the delivery demand was just too small.

  • How is your team coping? And how are you keeping the team motivated during this time?

    Daniel:
    For the open restaurants, the team is kept busy keeping up with the online orders. We're also really encouraging all of our other restaurant managers to keep their teams active through WhatsApp groups. So they're doing calls, video chats, team apero's to keep their staff activated and team spirits high. Another thing we're doing is rotating shifts. So in the open restaurants, the cooks and managers change every week which helps to keep them a bit active.

  • Going back to the online orders, are you seeing any difference in terms of what and when people are ordering these days? Or is it pretty much the same as how it was pre coronavirus?

    Daniel:
    Actually, we're seeing the average basket is larger than before. People are ordering more stuff, I guess for their families. We're also seeing that demand for lunch delivery has risen a lot as well. And previously Sunday was always the peak day. Now it's Friday.


  • Friday evening, right? Why do you think that is?

    Daniel:
    Exactly, I think it's that before on Friday evenings you would typically go out to a restaurant with friends to celebrate or enjoy the start of the weekend. And now that you can't, it's driving people to order online as a small treat to themselves while at home.

  • Makes sense. Have you also had time to think about other businesses' business services at this time, like preparing meal kits? Or are you just keeping to delivery until this kind of blows over?

    Daniel:
    We were actually thinking about doing meal kits and groceries like in the States, where Panera Bread and some others are doing this. But I don't know how much margin there is in that for us. Again, you still have to pay the driver which really eats into your margins. But what we are doing starting next week, you can pre-order via our delivery platform which will allow us to expand our delivery regions beyond the city center.

  • And today which cities are you in? And where do you have the most growth in terms of online orders?

    Daniel:
    Today we're open in Zurich, Bern, Basel, Zug, Lucerne, and Winterthur. In terms of delivery demand, it's difficult to say. In Bern, we've seen the highest increase in orders but I think this is because there is not much competition with online orders. But overall the more urban the city is the more delivery demand you have, so in Zurich we have the largest total number of orders.

    We actually tried to launch in Uster, (a small Swiss town of about 35,000 inhabitants). But we didn't succeed there. We only had about 20 to 40 orders an evening! And you just can't survive on that.

We were already quite focused on delivery pre-coronavirus, but now the good thing that's happened over these past two months is that we've gained so much experience that’s made everything in our online ordering more efficient.

- Daniel Wiesner

  • How do you think this is going to shape your business moving forward in the future? Will there be more emphasis on delivery?

    Daniel
    : We were already quite focused on delivery pre-coronavirus, but now the good thing that's happened over these past two months is that we've gained so much experience that’s made everything in our online ordering more efficient. Plus the demand for online ordering is much higher and our customer base has grown as a result of the lockdown.

    We were quite lucky as we opened our first cloud kitchen in Basel on the 10th of March. At first, I was a bit afraid of the idea as we didn't know how to run it and whether there would be enough demand for something like this, which is a first in Switzerland, would actually work. But the whole situation with coronavirus has made us accelerate our learning curve and shown us that the demand is there for online ordering. I'm sure this will go down as things open up again, but it will still be much higher than it was pre-coronavirus.

    We are also starting with the planning of another cloud kitchen in Zurich next week and getting ready for the launch of our first virtual brand. We didn't have the time to focus on this before but now because of corona we put a lot of our resources here.


  • I find it pretty wild, but you're opening up a cloud kitchen in the middle of a crisis whilst everyone else is hunkering down and cutting costs.

    Daniel
    : [laughs] It’s true, it’s an investment and risk. But at a time when everybody is putting their heads down, we want to look up and keep innovating. If it's not us, then it will be someone else.


  • The Cloud Kitchen model is an interesting one. I spoke with Smood previously who said that they were not convinced that model work in Switzerland unless you have a very strong brand, ideally with an existing offline premise to win over the Swiss customers' trust. Do you agree with that or do you have a secret recipe to make it work?

    Daniel
    : I absolutely agree with them. I think you can't just open a virtual brand in a cloud kitchen and have overnight success - it requires a lot of brand building and marketing. Luckily for us, we have existing brands from our brick and mortar restaurants, like the Negishi sushi bar and Nooch Asian kitchen which both have an existing customer base so we can easily transfer this to a cloud kitchen platform as well.


  • Pre-corona delivery still wasn't as big in Switzerland as it was in other countries like the UK or France or the U.S. When things start opening up again, do you expect Swiss consumers to really go back into the brick and mortar or do you expect a lot of them to stay online?

    Daniel
    : I'm pretty sure people will still want to go out, enjoy the company of others and dine in their favorite restaurants, it’s in the Swiss culture. But I do think that delivery will see large and long-lasting growth. Things will not return to normal right away, people will be more cautious of the way they interact, there will be new restrictions in place in restaurants and we can expect that more people will stick to home office working too, all of which will drive the online sales. Plus just the convenience of ordering at home will be something that a lot of customers will have gotten used to after the lockdown.

    But what I'm still unsure of is the recession that's coming. I assume people will not be spending as much money out as before and restaurants will take a hit. But with delivery, it allows customers to treat themselves and order at home but without having to pay for the extras, like wine which they can instead pick up from their grocery store.


  • Will the cloud kitchen model help to reduce the costs for the end customers?

    Daniel
    : Not exactly. Sure I won't have to pay for such a high rent in the city center or invest in the interior design, but we'll have to spend much more on marketing in comparison to brick and mortar to reach our customers. And in terms of staff costs, it's the same as in a physical location, it's just that the service staff are exchanged with the drivers in the cloud kitchen model. So overall no, the cost will stay the same for the end customer but it will hopefully allow us to focus on efficiency and waste reduction, which might give us slightly better margins.

Restaurant Miss Miu | Image © Fredy Wiesner Gastronomie
Restaurant Miss Miu | Image © Fredy Wiesner Gastronomie

  • As a business leader - what advice would you have for restaurant owners right now that might be panicked? Or do you really think that the foreseeable future is grim?

    Daniel
    : To be honest, It's not so positive. But it’s not a time to sulk either. Restaurant owners shouldn't rely on things to go back to business as usual and they should invest more effort into their brand building and growing the delivery and takeaway side of their business. It's also just in case a situation like this happens again, you'll be more prepared next time around.

  • That leads me to my last question. If someone wants to support their local restaurants, what's the best thing that they can do right now?

    Daniel
    : Two things.

    1) Get takeaway orders from your local restaurants. Even though delivery is easier for the customer, takeaway allows the restaurants to bypass third party commissions from delivery apps giving them a larger profit margin.

    2) Buy vouchers from your local restaurant, it is one of the best ways to support a restaurant right now and gives them the cash they need to get through the difficult months ahead.

Interview with Daniel Wiesner, COO of Fredy Wiesner Gastronomie

Written by
Arman Anatürk

Lived across North America, Europe and Asia, leading to my questionable cooking style. Jumped two feet forward into the startup world in 2013, and haven't looked back since. Always on the hunt for the next story or inside scoop to cover - email me or connect on LinkedIn.

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Truth is, it’s not a great time to be in the restaurant industry right now. With the lockdown already in effect for several weeks, owners are having to make tough choices about the future of their businesses.

Many have shifted online to keep orders coming in, working with third-delivery platforms that are eating into their margins. Others have decided to cut their losses and close their doors hoping they’ll be in a position to reopen again. But what does a post-COVID restaurant look like and will things ever really go ‘back to normal’ ?

I reached out to Daniel Wiesner, COO at Fredy Weisner Gastronomie, a family-run business that operates 32 restaurants in Switzerland and employs over 600 staff, to find out how they’ve been coping with COVID and how he sees the future of their business.

Daniel Wiesner, COO at Fredy Weisner Gastronomie
Daniel Wiesner, COO at Fredy Weisner Gastronomie

  • FoodHack: Can you set the scene for me? How has your business been affected by the Coronavirus?

    Daniel:
    When the lockdown came into place, we chose to close most of our restaurants due to the decrease in demand. As we had been doing delivery and takeaway with our restaurants before coronavirus, this allowed us to keep 10 out of our 30 restaurants operational during this period. It's a nice little income but overall we've been hit quite hard. We can continue like this for a few months, but if the crisis goes on for many more months longer it will be a tough stretch.


  • Can you quantify the loss / growth for us?

    Daniel:
    Roughly, we’re doing 25% what we typically do. Yes, we’ve seen the delivery business triple or in some cases quadruple, but when you factor in the closure of two-thirds of our restaurants and all the delivery commissions and driver fees, the margin we’re left with is a fraction of what it previously was.

Restaurant Miss Miu | Image © Fredy Wiesner Gastronomie
Restaurant Miss Miu | Image © Fredy Wiesner Gastronomie

  • Was it easy to make the shift to a delivery and takeaway only model?

    Daniel:
    We're lucky to have already been quite active in the restaurant delivery business and have a strong customer base online. So in terms of driving the demand, it was really a matter of reactivating these existing customers through some marketing and also being active on third party delivery platforms like Uber Eats, Smood, Takeaway.com, and Eat.ch, to get in front of as many customers as possible.

    What was difficult was adapting all our processes and our operating system in the restaurants. All of a sudden we were seeing 3 to 4 times more online orders than usual, so at the beginning we actually had some delays with fulfilling orders and it took us around two weeks of twice-daily meetings and training in order to optimize our process. Now we’re back on track and have reduced the delays to a small amount.


  • In terms of the menu, did you have to make any adjustment for the online orders or is it your standard in-restaurant menu?

    Daniel:
    When it comes to delivery, all the orders are coming in at the same time and so keeping the menu small makes it more manageable on the cooks, though on the other hand, you still need to have a large enough range that people want to order. In the end, we ended up taking off about one-third of the items and keeping mostly high margin items that do well for delivery.

  • When it comes to the different delivery platforms, what's the split you're seeing between your own delivery platform and then the third-party platforms you’re on?

    Daniel:
    Most of the orders come in from our own delivery platform. But this is also because we've been promoting it for many years and have an existing customer base there. Eat.ch is also strong and we’ve only recently started with Uber Eats, which is growing quite fast.

  • Should delivery platforms be cutting commissions at this time?

    Daniel:
    In my opinion, if the goal is really to help the restaurants, then yes, they should cut the commission. I've seen that happen in the States but not yet here in Switzerland. At the end of the day, it's their business model and their choice. But we're still on good terms with all of the delivery platforms and typically when we ask them for some promotion they’re happy to help us.

  • What type of marketing are you doing during this time to acquire customers?

    Daniel:
    It's a combination of email promotion, which we send out twice a week, daily social media like on Instagram and Facebook, Google Adwords and we still do some traditional mail advertising, which to be honest, is the one that works the most, especially in the urban areas like in Zurich or in Basel.

  • Interesting. What are you sending in the post?

    Daniel:
    Simple things, like vouchers and discounts to order online.

  • Is that mostly for new customers or is it solely existing customers?

    Daniel:
    For the mail advertising, it’s all existing customers. It’s not a channel that works well for acquiring new customers. But we do use Google AdWords which has been driving a lot of new customers recently.

  • You mentioned you had to close two thirds or restaurants, what happens to your staff during that time?

    Daniel:
    Luckily, because of Switzerland’s short-time wage subsidy program, we're able to pay all our staff during this time. So in all of the closed restaurants, our staff are at home waiting until we're open and the state is covering their salaries for now.

Restaurant The Butcher | Image © Fredy Wiesner Gastronomie
Restaurant The Butcher | Image © Fredy Wiesner Gastronomie

  • When do you think things will go back to normality and you'll be able to open up your restaurants again?

    Daniel:
    I guess the restaurants will be open at the beginning of June. But this is just my own opinion. I hope that it won't be like before the shutdown where we were limited to a maximum of 50 people in a restaurant. Most restaurants can't do business this way, you just end up losing money. So this is what we're currently waiting on right now, to hear from the State on the next actions and regulations.


  • Do you think all restaurants right now should be online? I've seen some have chosen to shut down during this period, and others are really pushing online deliveries. What would you advise?

    Daniel:
    In my opinion, if you haven't done delivery before, you shouldn’t do delivery now. The thing is, you need a certain amount of demand and dishes sold per day. And if you don't have that, it doesn't make sense to pay your staff to come in for the day and cook only a handful of meals. This is the reason why we closed two-thirds of our restaurants. We tried to keep more of them open for a longer period but the delivery demand was just too small.

  • How is your team coping? And how are you keeping the team motivated during this time?

    Daniel:
    For the open restaurants, the team is kept busy keeping up with the online orders. We're also really encouraging all of our other restaurant managers to keep their teams active through WhatsApp groups. So they're doing calls, video chats, team apero's to keep their staff activated and team spirits high. Another thing we're doing is rotating shifts. So in the open restaurants, the cooks and managers change every week which helps to keep them a bit active.

  • Going back to the online orders, are you seeing any difference in terms of what and when people are ordering these days? Or is it pretty much the same as how it was pre coronavirus?

    Daniel:
    Actually, we're seeing the average basket is larger than before. People are ordering more stuff, I guess for their families. We're also seeing that demand for lunch delivery has risen a lot as well. And previously Sunday was always the peak day. Now it's Friday.


  • Friday evening, right? Why do you think that is?

    Daniel:
    Exactly, I think it's that before on Friday evenings you would typically go out to a restaurant with friends to celebrate or enjoy the start of the weekend. And now that you can't, it's driving people to order online as a small treat to themselves while at home.

  • Makes sense. Have you also had time to think about other businesses' business services at this time, like preparing meal kits? Or are you just keeping to delivery until this kind of blows over?

    Daniel:
    We were actually thinking about doing meal kits and groceries like in the States, where Panera Bread and some others are doing this. But I don't know how much margin there is in that for us. Again, you still have to pay the driver which really eats into your margins. But what we are doing starting next week, you can pre-order via our delivery platform which will allow us to expand our delivery regions beyond the city center.

  • And today which cities are you in? And where do you have the most growth in terms of online orders?

    Daniel:
    Today we're open in Zurich, Bern, Basel, Zug, Lucerne, and Winterthur. In terms of delivery demand, it's difficult to say. In Bern, we've seen the highest increase in orders but I think this is because there is not much competition with online orders. But overall the more urban the city is the more delivery demand you have, so in Zurich we have the largest total number of orders.

    We actually tried to launch in Uster, (a small Swiss town of about 35,000 inhabitants). But we didn't succeed there. We only had about 20 to 40 orders an evening! And you just can't survive on that.

We were already quite focused on delivery pre-coronavirus, but now the good thing that's happened over these past two months is that we've gained so much experience that’s made everything in our online ordering more efficient.

- Daniel Wiesner

  • How do you think this is going to shape your business moving forward in the future? Will there be more emphasis on delivery?

    Daniel
    : We were already quite focused on delivery pre-coronavirus, but now the good thing that's happened over these past two months is that we've gained so much experience that’s made everything in our online ordering more efficient. Plus the demand for online ordering is much higher and our customer base has grown as a result of the lockdown.

    We were quite lucky as we opened our first cloud kitchen in Basel on the 10th of March. At first, I was a bit afraid of the idea as we didn't know how to run it and whether there would be enough demand for something like this, which is a first in Switzerland, would actually work. But the whole situation with coronavirus has made us accelerate our learning curve and shown us that the demand is there for online ordering. I'm sure this will go down as things open up again, but it will still be much higher than it was pre-coronavirus.

    We are also starting with the planning of another cloud kitchen in Zurich next week and getting ready for the launch of our first virtual brand. We didn't have the time to focus on this before but now because of corona we put a lot of our resources here.


  • I find it pretty wild, but you're opening up a cloud kitchen in the middle of a crisis whilst everyone else is hunkering down and cutting costs.

    Daniel
    : [laughs] It’s true, it’s an investment and risk. But at a time when everybody is putting their heads down, we want to look up and keep innovating. If it's not us, then it will be someone else.


  • The Cloud Kitchen model is an interesting one. I spoke with Smood previously who said that they were not convinced that model work in Switzerland unless you have a very strong brand, ideally with an existing offline premise to win over the Swiss customers' trust. Do you agree with that or do you have a secret recipe to make it work?

    Daniel
    : I absolutely agree with them. I think you can't just open a virtual brand in a cloud kitchen and have overnight success - it requires a lot of brand building and marketing. Luckily for us, we have existing brands from our brick and mortar restaurants, like the Negishi sushi bar and Nooch Asian kitchen which both have an existing customer base so we can easily transfer this to a cloud kitchen platform as well.


  • Pre-corona delivery still wasn't as big in Switzerland as it was in other countries like the UK or France or the U.S. When things start opening up again, do you expect Swiss consumers to really go back into the brick and mortar or do you expect a lot of them to stay online?

    Daniel
    : I'm pretty sure people will still want to go out, enjoy the company of others and dine in their favorite restaurants, it’s in the Swiss culture. But I do think that delivery will see large and long-lasting growth. Things will not return to normal right away, people will be more cautious of the way they interact, there will be new restrictions in place in restaurants and we can expect that more people will stick to home office working too, all of which will drive the online sales. Plus just the convenience of ordering at home will be something that a lot of customers will have gotten used to after the lockdown.

    But what I'm still unsure of is the recession that's coming. I assume people will not be spending as much money out as before and restaurants will take a hit. But with delivery, it allows customers to treat themselves and order at home but without having to pay for the extras, like wine which they can instead pick up from their grocery store.


  • Will the cloud kitchen model help to reduce the costs for the end customers?

    Daniel
    : Not exactly. Sure I won't have to pay for such a high rent in the city center or invest in the interior design, but we'll have to spend much more on marketing in comparison to brick and mortar to reach our customers. And in terms of staff costs, it's the same as in a physical location, it's just that the service staff are exchanged with the drivers in the cloud kitchen model. So overall no, the cost will stay the same for the end customer but it will hopefully allow us to focus on efficiency and waste reduction, which might give us slightly better margins.

Restaurant Miss Miu | Image © Fredy Wiesner Gastronomie
Restaurant Miss Miu | Image © Fredy Wiesner Gastronomie

  • As a business leader - what advice would you have for restaurant owners right now that might be panicked? Or do you really think that the foreseeable future is grim?

    Daniel
    : To be honest, It's not so positive. But it’s not a time to sulk either. Restaurant owners shouldn't rely on things to go back to business as usual and they should invest more effort into their brand building and growing the delivery and takeaway side of their business. It's also just in case a situation like this happens again, you'll be more prepared next time around.

  • That leads me to my last question. If someone wants to support their local restaurants, what's the best thing that they can do right now?

    Daniel
    : Two things.

    1) Get takeaway orders from your local restaurants. Even though delivery is easier for the customer, takeaway allows the restaurants to bypass third party commissions from delivery apps giving them a larger profit margin.

    2) Buy vouchers from your local restaurant, it is one of the best ways to support a restaurant right now and gives them the cash they need to get through the difficult months ahead.

Interview with Daniel Wiesner, COO of Fredy Wiesner Gastronomie

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Truth is, it’s not a great time to be in the restaurant industry right now. With the lockdown already in effect for several weeks, owners are having to make tough choices about the future of their businesses.

Many have shifted online to keep orders coming in, working with third-delivery platforms that are eating into their margins. Others have decided to cut their losses and close their doors hoping they’ll be in a position to reopen again. But what does a post-COVID restaurant look like and will things ever really go ‘back to normal’ ?

I reached out to Daniel Wiesner, COO at Fredy Weisner Gastronomie, a family-run business that operates 32 restaurants in Switzerland and employs over 600 staff, to find out how they’ve been coping with COVID and how he sees the future of their business.

Daniel Wiesner, COO at Fredy Weisner Gastronomie
Daniel Wiesner, COO at Fredy Weisner Gastronomie

  • FoodHack: Can you set the scene for me? How has your business been affected by the Coronavirus?

    Daniel:
    When the lockdown came into place, we chose to close most of our restaurants due to the decrease in demand. As we had been doing delivery and takeaway with our restaurants before coronavirus, this allowed us to keep 10 out of our 30 restaurants operational during this period. It's a nice little income but overall we've been hit quite hard. We can continue like this for a few months, but if the crisis goes on for many more months longer it will be a tough stretch.


  • Can you quantify the loss / growth for us?

    Daniel:
    Roughly, we’re doing 25% what we typically do. Yes, we’ve seen the delivery business triple or in some cases quadruple, but when you factor in the closure of two-thirds of our restaurants and all the delivery commissions and driver fees, the margin we’re left with is a fraction of what it previously was.

Restaurant Miss Miu | Image © Fredy Wiesner Gastronomie
Restaurant Miss Miu | Image © Fredy Wiesner Gastronomie

  • Was it easy to make the shift to a delivery and takeaway only model?

    Daniel:
    We're lucky to have already been quite active in the restaurant delivery business and have a strong customer base online. So in terms of driving the demand, it was really a matter of reactivating these existing customers through some marketing and also being active on third party delivery platforms like Uber Eats, Smood, Takeaway.com, and Eat.ch, to get in front of as many customers as possible.

    What was difficult was adapting all our processes and our operating system in the restaurants. All of a sudden we were seeing 3 to 4 times more online orders than usual, so at the beginning we actually had some delays with fulfilling orders and it took us around two weeks of twice-daily meetings and training in order to optimize our process. Now we’re back on track and have reduced the delays to a small amount.


  • In terms of the menu, did you have to make any adjustment for the online orders or is it your standard in-restaurant menu?

    Daniel:
    When it comes to delivery, all the orders are coming in at the same time and so keeping the menu small makes it more manageable on the cooks, though on the other hand, you still need to have a large enough range that people want to order. In the end, we ended up taking off about one-third of the items and keeping mostly high margin items that do well for delivery.

  • When it comes to the different delivery platforms, what's the split you're seeing between your own delivery platform and then the third-party platforms you’re on?

    Daniel:
    Most of the orders come in from our own delivery platform. But this is also because we've been promoting it for many years and have an existing customer base there. Eat.ch is also strong and we’ve only recently started with Uber Eats, which is growing quite fast.

  • Should delivery platforms be cutting commissions at this time?

    Daniel:
    In my opinion, if the goal is really to help the restaurants, then yes, they should cut the commission. I've seen that happen in the States but not yet here in Switzerland. At the end of the day, it's their business model and their choice. But we're still on good terms with all of the delivery platforms and typically when we ask them for some promotion they’re happy to help us.

  • What type of marketing are you doing during this time to acquire customers?

    Daniel:
    It's a combination of email promotion, which we send out twice a week, daily social media like on Instagram and Facebook, Google Adwords and we still do some traditional mail advertising, which to be honest, is the one that works the most, especially in the urban areas like in Zurich or in Basel.

  • Interesting. What are you sending in the post?

    Daniel:
    Simple things, like vouchers and discounts to order online.

  • Is that mostly for new customers or is it solely existing customers?

    Daniel:
    For the mail advertising, it’s all existing customers. It’s not a channel that works well for acquiring new customers. But we do use Google AdWords which has been driving a lot of new customers recently.

  • You mentioned you had to close two thirds or restaurants, what happens to your staff during that time?

    Daniel:
    Luckily, because of Switzerland’s short-time wage subsidy program, we're able to pay all our staff during this time. So in all of the closed restaurants, our staff are at home waiting until we're open and the state is covering their salaries for now.

Restaurant The Butcher | Image © Fredy Wiesner Gastronomie
Restaurant The Butcher | Image © Fredy Wiesner Gastronomie

  • When do you think things will go back to normality and you'll be able to open up your restaurants again?

    Daniel:
    I guess the restaurants will be open at the beginning of June. But this is just my own opinion. I hope that it won't be like before the shutdown where we were limited to a maximum of 50 people in a restaurant. Most restaurants can't do business this way, you just end up losing money. So this is what we're currently waiting on right now, to hear from the State on the next actions and regulations.


  • Do you think all restaurants right now should be online? I've seen some have chosen to shut down during this period, and others are really pushing online deliveries. What would you advise?

    Daniel:
    In my opinion, if you haven't done delivery before, you shouldn’t do delivery now. The thing is, you need a certain amount of demand and dishes sold per day. And if you don't have that, it doesn't make sense to pay your staff to come in for the day and cook only a handful of meals. This is the reason why we closed two-thirds of our restaurants. We tried to keep more of them open for a longer period but the delivery demand was just too small.

  • How is your team coping? And how are you keeping the team motivated during this time?

    Daniel:
    For the open restaurants, the team is kept busy keeping up with the online orders. We're also really encouraging all of our other restaurant managers to keep their teams active through WhatsApp groups. So they're doing calls, video chats, team apero's to keep their staff activated and team spirits high. Another thing we're doing is rotating shifts. So in the open restaurants, the cooks and managers change every week which helps to keep them a bit active.

  • Going back to the online orders, are you seeing any difference in terms of what and when people are ordering these days? Or is it pretty much the same as how it was pre coronavirus?

    Daniel:
    Actually, we're seeing the average basket is larger than before. People are ordering more stuff, I guess for their families. We're also seeing that demand for lunch delivery has risen a lot as well. And previously Sunday was always the peak day. Now it's Friday.


  • Friday evening, right? Why do you think that is?

    Daniel:
    Exactly, I think it's that before on Friday evenings you would typically go out to a restaurant with friends to celebrate or enjoy the start of the weekend. And now that you can't, it's driving people to order online as a small treat to themselves while at home.

  • Makes sense. Have you also had time to think about other businesses' business services at this time, like preparing meal kits? Or are you just keeping to delivery until this kind of blows over?

    Daniel:
    We were actually thinking about doing meal kits and groceries like in the States, where Panera Bread and some others are doing this. But I don't know how much margin there is in that for us. Again, you still have to pay the driver which really eats into your margins. But what we are doing starting next week, you can pre-order via our delivery platform which will allow us to expand our delivery regions beyond the city center.

  • And today which cities are you in? And where do you have the most growth in terms of online orders?

    Daniel:
    Today we're open in Zurich, Bern, Basel, Zug, Lucerne, and Winterthur. In terms of delivery demand, it's difficult to say. In Bern, we've seen the highest increase in orders but I think this is because there is not much competition with online orders. But overall the more urban the city is the more delivery demand you have, so in Zurich we have the largest total number of orders.

    We actually tried to launch in Uster, (a small Swiss town of about 35,000 inhabitants). But we didn't succeed there. We only had about 20 to 40 orders an evening! And you just can't survive on that.

We were already quite focused on delivery pre-coronavirus, but now the good thing that's happened over these past two months is that we've gained so much experience that’s made everything in our online ordering more efficient.

- Daniel Wiesner

  • How do you think this is going to shape your business moving forward in the future? Will there be more emphasis on delivery?

    Daniel
    : We were already quite focused on delivery pre-coronavirus, but now the good thing that's happened over these past two months is that we've gained so much experience that’s made everything in our online ordering more efficient. Plus the demand for online ordering is much higher and our customer base has grown as a result of the lockdown.

    We were quite lucky as we opened our first cloud kitchen in Basel on the 10th of March. At first, I was a bit afraid of the idea as we didn't know how to run it and whether there would be enough demand for something like this, which is a first in Switzerland, would actually work. But the whole situation with coronavirus has made us accelerate our learning curve and shown us that the demand is there for online ordering. I'm sure this will go down as things open up again, but it will still be much higher than it was pre-coronavirus.

    We are also starting with the planning of another cloud kitchen in Zurich next week and getting ready for the launch of our first virtual brand. We didn't have the time to focus on this before but now because of corona we put a lot of our resources here.


  • I find it pretty wild, but you're opening up a cloud kitchen in the middle of a crisis whilst everyone else is hunkering down and cutting costs.

    Daniel
    : [laughs] It’s true, it’s an investment and risk. But at a time when everybody is putting their heads down, we want to look up and keep innovating. If it's not us, then it will be someone else.


  • The Cloud Kitchen model is an interesting one. I spoke with Smood previously who said that they were not convinced that model work in Switzerland unless you have a very strong brand, ideally with an existing offline premise to win over the Swiss customers' trust. Do you agree with that or do you have a secret recipe to make it work?

    Daniel
    : I absolutely agree with them. I think you can't just open a virtual brand in a cloud kitchen and have overnight success - it requires a lot of brand building and marketing. Luckily for us, we have existing brands from our brick and mortar restaurants, like the Negishi sushi bar and Nooch Asian kitchen which both have an existing customer base so we can easily transfer this to a cloud kitchen platform as well.


  • Pre-corona delivery still wasn't as big in Switzerland as it was in other countries like the UK or France or the U.S. When things start opening up again, do you expect Swiss consumers to really go back into the brick and mortar or do you expect a lot of them to stay online?

    Daniel
    : I'm pretty sure people will still want to go out, enjoy the company of others and dine in their favorite restaurants, it’s in the Swiss culture. But I do think that delivery will see large and long-lasting growth. Things will not return to normal right away, people will be more cautious of the way they interact, there will be new restrictions in place in restaurants and we can expect that more people will stick to home office working too, all of which will drive the online sales. Plus just the convenience of ordering at home will be something that a lot of customers will have gotten used to after the lockdown.

    But what I'm still unsure of is the recession that's coming. I assume people will not be spending as much money out as before and restaurants will take a hit. But with delivery, it allows customers to treat themselves and order at home but without having to pay for the extras, like wine which they can instead pick up from their grocery store.


  • Will the cloud kitchen model help to reduce the costs for the end customers?

    Daniel
    : Not exactly. Sure I won't have to pay for such a high rent in the city center or invest in the interior design, but we'll have to spend much more on marketing in comparison to brick and mortar to reach our customers. And in terms of staff costs, it's the same as in a physical location, it's just that the service staff are exchanged with the drivers in the cloud kitchen model. So overall no, the cost will stay the same for the end customer but it will hopefully allow us to focus on efficiency and waste reduction, which might give us slightly better margins.

Restaurant Miss Miu | Image © Fredy Wiesner Gastronomie
Restaurant Miss Miu | Image © Fredy Wiesner Gastronomie

  • As a business leader - what advice would you have for restaurant owners right now that might be panicked? Or do you really think that the foreseeable future is grim?

    Daniel
    : To be honest, It's not so positive. But it’s not a time to sulk either. Restaurant owners shouldn't rely on things to go back to business as usual and they should invest more effort into their brand building and growing the delivery and takeaway side of their business. It's also just in case a situation like this happens again, you'll be more prepared next time around.

  • That leads me to my last question. If someone wants to support their local restaurants, what's the best thing that they can do right now?

    Daniel
    : Two things.

    1) Get takeaway orders from your local restaurants. Even though delivery is easier for the customer, takeaway allows the restaurants to bypass third party commissions from delivery apps giving them a larger profit margin.

    2) Buy vouchers from your local restaurant, it is one of the best ways to support a restaurant right now and gives them the cash they need to get through the difficult months ahead.

Interview with Daniel Wiesner, COO of Fredy Wiesner Gastronomie

Truth is, it’s not a great time to be in the restaurant industry right now. With the lockdown already in effect for several weeks, owners are having to make tough choices about the future of their businesses.

Many have shifted online to keep orders coming in, working with third-delivery platforms that are eating into their margins. Others have decided to cut their losses and close their doors hoping they’ll be in a position to reopen again. But what does a post-COVID restaurant look like and will things ever really go ‘back to normal’ ?

I reached out to Daniel Wiesner, COO at Fredy Weisner Gastronomie, a family-run business that operates 32 restaurants in Switzerland and employs over 600 staff, to find out how they’ve been coping with COVID and how he sees the future of their business.

Daniel Wiesner, COO at Fredy Weisner Gastronomie
Daniel Wiesner, COO at Fredy Weisner Gastronomie

  • FoodHack: Can you set the scene for me? How has your business been affected by the Coronavirus?

    Daniel:
    When the lockdown came into place, we chose to close most of our restaurants due to the decrease in demand. As we had been doing delivery and takeaway with our restaurants before coronavirus, this allowed us to keep 10 out of our 30 restaurants operational during this period. It's a nice little income but overall we've been hit quite hard. We can continue like this for a few months, but if the crisis goes on for many more months longer it will be a tough stretch.


  • Can you quantify the loss / growth for us?

    Daniel:
    Roughly, we’re doing 25% what we typically do. Yes, we’ve seen the delivery business triple or in some cases quadruple, but when you factor in the closure of two-thirds of our restaurants and all the delivery commissions and driver fees, the margin we’re left with is a fraction of what it previously was.

Restaurant Miss Miu | Image © Fredy Wiesner Gastronomie
Restaurant Miss Miu | Image © Fredy Wiesner Gastronomie

  • Was it easy to make the shift to a delivery and takeaway only model?

    Daniel:
    We're lucky to have already been quite active in the restaurant delivery business and have a strong customer base online. So in terms of driving the demand, it was really a matter of reactivating these existing customers through some marketing and also being active on third party delivery platforms like Uber Eats, Smood, Takeaway.com, and Eat.ch, to get in front of as many customers as possible.

    What was difficult was adapting all our processes and our operating system in the restaurants. All of a sudden we were seeing 3 to 4 times more online orders than usual, so at the beginning we actually had some delays with fulfilling orders and it took us around two weeks of twice-daily meetings and training in order to optimize our process. Now we’re back on track and have reduced the delays to a small amount.


  • In terms of the menu, did you have to make any adjustment for the online orders or is it your standard in-restaurant menu?

    Daniel:
    When it comes to delivery, all the orders are coming in at the same time and so keeping the menu small makes it more manageable on the cooks, though on the other hand, you still need to have a large enough range that people want to order. In the end, we ended up taking off about one-third of the items and keeping mostly high margin items that do well for delivery.

  • When it comes to the different delivery platforms, what's the split you're seeing between your own delivery platform and then the third-party platforms you’re on?

    Daniel:
    Most of the orders come in from our own delivery platform. But this is also because we've been promoting it for many years and have an existing customer base there. Eat.ch is also strong and we’ve only recently started with Uber Eats, which is growing quite fast.

  • Should delivery platforms be cutting commissions at this time?

    Daniel:
    In my opinion, if the goal is really to help the restaurants, then yes, they should cut the commission. I've seen that happen in the States but not yet here in Switzerland. At the end of the day, it's their business model and their choice. But we're still on good terms with all of the delivery platforms and typically when we ask them for some promotion they’re happy to help us.

  • What type of marketing are you doing during this time to acquire customers?

    Daniel:
    It's a combination of email promotion, which we send out twice a week, daily social media like on Instagram and Facebook, Google Adwords and we still do some traditional mail advertising, which to be honest, is the one that works the most, especially in the urban areas like in Zurich or in Basel.

  • Interesting. What are you sending in the post?

    Daniel:
    Simple things, like vouchers and discounts to order online.

  • Is that mostly for new customers or is it solely existing customers?

    Daniel:
    For the mail advertising, it’s all existing customers. It’s not a channel that works well for acquiring new customers. But we do use Google AdWords which has been driving a lot of new customers recently.

  • You mentioned you had to close two thirds or restaurants, what happens to your staff during that time?

    Daniel:
    Luckily, because of Switzerland’s short-time wage subsidy program, we're able to pay all our staff during this time. So in all of the closed restaurants, our staff are at home waiting until we're open and the state is covering their salaries for now.

Restaurant The Butcher | Image © Fredy Wiesner Gastronomie
Restaurant The Butcher | Image © Fredy Wiesner Gastronomie

  • When do you think things will go back to normality and you'll be able to open up your restaurants again?

    Daniel:
    I guess the restaurants will be open at the beginning of June. But this is just my own opinion. I hope that it won't be like before the shutdown where we were limited to a maximum of 50 people in a restaurant. Most restaurants can't do business this way, you just end up losing money. So this is what we're currently waiting on right now, to hear from the State on the next actions and regulations.


  • Do you think all restaurants right now should be online? I've seen some have chosen to shut down during this period, and others are really pushing online deliveries. What would you advise?

    Daniel:
    In my opinion, if you haven't done delivery before, you shouldn’t do delivery now. The thing is, you need a certain amount of demand and dishes sold per day. And if you don't have that, it doesn't make sense to pay your staff to come in for the day and cook only a handful of meals. This is the reason why we closed two-thirds of our restaurants. We tried to keep more of them open for a longer period but the delivery demand was just too small.

  • How is your team coping? And how are you keeping the team motivated during this time?

    Daniel:
    For the open restaurants, the team is kept busy keeping up with the online orders. We're also really encouraging all of our other restaurant managers to keep their teams active through WhatsApp groups. So they're doing calls, video chats, team apero's to keep their staff activated and team spirits high. Another thing we're doing is rotating shifts. So in the open restaurants, the cooks and managers change every week which helps to keep them a bit active.

  • Going back to the online orders, are you seeing any difference in terms of what and when people are ordering these days? Or is it pretty much the same as how it was pre coronavirus?

    Daniel:
    Actually, we're seeing the average basket is larger than before. People are ordering more stuff, I guess for their families. We're also seeing that demand for lunch delivery has risen a lot as well. And previously Sunday was always the peak day. Now it's Friday.


  • Friday evening, right? Why do you think that is?

    Daniel:
    Exactly, I think it's that before on Friday evenings you would typically go out to a restaurant with friends to celebrate or enjoy the start of the weekend. And now that you can't, it's driving people to order online as a small treat to themselves while at home.

  • Makes sense. Have you also had time to think about other businesses' business services at this time, like preparing meal kits? Or are you just keeping to delivery until this kind of blows over?

    Daniel:
    We were actually thinking about doing meal kits and groceries like in the States, where Panera Bread and some others are doing this. But I don't know how much margin there is in that for us. Again, you still have to pay the driver which really eats into your margins. But what we are doing starting next week, you can pre-order via our delivery platform which will allow us to expand our delivery regions beyond the city center.

  • And today which cities are you in? And where do you have the most growth in terms of online orders?

    Daniel:
    Today we're open in Zurich, Bern, Basel, Zug, Lucerne, and Winterthur. In terms of delivery demand, it's difficult to say. In Bern, we've seen the highest increase in orders but I think this is because there is not much competition with online orders. But overall the more urban the city is the more delivery demand you have, so in Zurich we have the largest total number of orders.

    We actually tried to launch in Uster, (a small Swiss town of about 35,000 inhabitants). But we didn't succeed there. We only had about 20 to 40 orders an evening! And you just can't survive on that.

We were already quite focused on delivery pre-coronavirus, but now the good thing that's happened over these past two months is that we've gained so much experience that’s made everything in our online ordering more efficient.

- Daniel Wiesner

  • How do you think this is going to shape your business moving forward in the future? Will there be more emphasis on delivery?

    Daniel
    : We were already quite focused on delivery pre-coronavirus, but now the good thing that's happened over these past two months is that we've gained so much experience that’s made everything in our online ordering more efficient. Plus the demand for online ordering is much higher and our customer base has grown as a result of the lockdown.

    We were quite lucky as we opened our first cloud kitchen in Basel on the 10th of March. At first, I was a bit afraid of the idea as we didn't know how to run it and whether there would be enough demand for something like this, which is a first in Switzerland, would actually work. But the whole situation with coronavirus has made us accelerate our learning curve and shown us that the demand is there for online ordering. I'm sure this will go down as things open up again, but it will still be much higher than it was pre-coronavirus.

    We are also starting with the planning of another cloud kitchen in Zurich next week and getting ready for the launch of our first virtual brand. We didn't have the time to focus on this before but now because of corona we put a lot of our resources here.


  • I find it pretty wild, but you're opening up a cloud kitchen in the middle of a crisis whilst everyone else is hunkering down and cutting costs.

    Daniel
    : [laughs] It’s true, it’s an investment and risk. But at a time when everybody is putting their heads down, we want to look up and keep innovating. If it's not us, then it will be someone else.


  • The Cloud Kitchen model is an interesting one. I spoke with Smood previously who said that they were not convinced that model work in Switzerland unless you have a very strong brand, ideally with an existing offline premise to win over the Swiss customers' trust. Do you agree with that or do you have a secret recipe to make it work?

    Daniel
    : I absolutely agree with them. I think you can't just open a virtual brand in a cloud kitchen and have overnight success - it requires a lot of brand building and marketing. Luckily for us, we have existing brands from our brick and mortar restaurants, like the Negishi sushi bar and Nooch Asian kitchen which both have an existing customer base so we can easily transfer this to a cloud kitchen platform as well.


  • Pre-corona delivery still wasn't as big in Switzerland as it was in other countries like the UK or France or the U.S. When things start opening up again, do you expect Swiss consumers to really go back into the brick and mortar or do you expect a lot of them to stay online?

    Daniel
    : I'm pretty sure people will still want to go out, enjoy the company of others and dine in their favorite restaurants, it’s in the Swiss culture. But I do think that delivery will see large and long-lasting growth. Things will not return to normal right away, people will be more cautious of the way they interact, there will be new restrictions in place in restaurants and we can expect that more people will stick to home office working too, all of which will drive the online sales. Plus just the convenience of ordering at home will be something that a lot of customers will have gotten used to after the lockdown.

    But what I'm still unsure of is the recession that's coming. I assume people will not be spending as much money out as before and restaurants will take a hit. But with delivery, it allows customers to treat themselves and order at home but without having to pay for the extras, like wine which they can instead pick up from their grocery store.


  • Will the cloud kitchen model help to reduce the costs for the end customers?

    Daniel
    : Not exactly. Sure I won't have to pay for such a high rent in the city center or invest in the interior design, but we'll have to spend much more on marketing in comparison to brick and mortar to reach our customers. And in terms of staff costs, it's the same as in a physical location, it's just that the service staff are exchanged with the drivers in the cloud kitchen model. So overall no, the cost will stay the same for the end customer but it will hopefully allow us to focus on efficiency and waste reduction, which might give us slightly better margins.

Restaurant Miss Miu | Image © Fredy Wiesner Gastronomie
Restaurant Miss Miu | Image © Fredy Wiesner Gastronomie

  • As a business leader - what advice would you have for restaurant owners right now that might be panicked? Or do you really think that the foreseeable future is grim?

    Daniel
    : To be honest, It's not so positive. But it’s not a time to sulk either. Restaurant owners shouldn't rely on things to go back to business as usual and they should invest more effort into their brand building and growing the delivery and takeaway side of their business. It's also just in case a situation like this happens again, you'll be more prepared next time around.

  • That leads me to my last question. If someone wants to support their local restaurants, what's the best thing that they can do right now?

    Daniel
    : Two things.

    1) Get takeaway orders from your local restaurants. Even though delivery is easier for the customer, takeaway allows the restaurants to bypass third party commissions from delivery apps giving them a larger profit margin.

    2) Buy vouchers from your local restaurant, it is one of the best ways to support a restaurant right now and gives them the cash they need to get through the difficult months ahead.

Interview with Daniel Wiesner, COO of Fredy Wiesner Gastronomie