The ongoing pandemic has been a blight on the food and hospitality industry and its workers, but some companies have successfully pivoted to delivery operations, and have even made money out of this so-called “opportunity”.
Others are using it to let their customers know they’re full of feel-good credibility.
During the first lockdown in March 2020, a number of big brand food and delivery companies pledged abundant donations to the NHS. The gist of the commitment was: while the NHS is helping us, we can help them – let’s give them a decent meal or two.
A good faith interpretation of this is that these companies were acting out of altruism. A more cynical speculation is that freebies are a long-trusted PR tool in every big corporation’s armory. We’ve seen politicians competitively squabbling over who loves the NHS more. Why would businesses be any different?
But the third lockdown has been defined by a lack of feel-good vibes. The loudly trumpeted crowdfunders and food schemes are quieter now – and all at a time when the NHS arguably needs more support and not less.
Three out of four paramedics report that they’re at “breaking point”. The NHS has had to draft in the military to support their staff. Most damningly of all, the UK death toll has passed 100,000 since the pandemic began, accounting for 5 percent of the world’s deaths, despite Britons only being 0.87 percent of the world’s population. So where has all the love gone?
Another nine businesses admitted that they had decreased their donations or phased out their NHS discounts completely. Pret and Caffe Nero, for instance, both ended their scheme for free hot drinks for NHS staff.
Other companies, like Tesco, say that they have continued to support the NHS but did not have exact figures on the number of meals donated to staff.
Only three of the 22 companies approached for comment – Rosa’s Thai, Franco Manca and Nando’s – said that they were increasing their donations. Another three – Tortilla, Domino’s and KFC – are matching their initial pledge.
Here’s what 22 of the biggest food and delivery brands in the UK had to say:
THE COMPANIES DOING LESS
Old offer: 50 percent off for health service workers. It also spearheaded the #FeedNHS campaign, with the aim of crowdfunding £1m and delivering 6,000 meals a day.
Current offer: “We are serving daily meals again to some of London's most pressured ICU departments. Public donations to support this are lower now compared to last year, but we see this as a sign of the kind of pressures people are experiencing personally,” a spokesperson said.
Old offer: In May, Pret introduced a temporary offer for NHS staff including a 50 percent discount and free hot drinks, saving NHS workers over £120,000.
Current offer: Pret ended this discount that same month as it continues to “manage the challenges of reduced footfall and new operational costs,” a spokesperson explained.
Previous offer: Free hot drinks to NHS staff for an unknown period of time. They reportedly gave away 35,000 within six weeks.
Current offer: “We are not currently offering free drinks for the NHS, but continue to offer one of the most generous loyalty programmes, which aims to benefit all customers,” a spokesperson said.
Old offer: 250,000 meals were delivered to NHS staff throughout the UK lockdowns – a rate of about 6,100 meals a week according to VICE analysis.
Current offer: 1,000 meals a week have been delivered to the NHS so far in 2021. A spokesperson explained: “Our drive to provide the NHS and essential workers with free meals during the first lockdown was part of a national partnership with Deliveroo. Pizza Hut is continuing to deliver free meals based on local need and NHS requests.”
Old offer: For a little over four weeks, Just Eat offered an NHS discount that saved staff £3.3m on 2m meals. This changed in May so that 20 percent of the cost of orders made by the public to selected restaurants was donated to NHS Charities Together, National Emergencies Trust and the Care Workers’ Charity.
Current offer: There is no NHS discount, but a spokesperson said: “We’re actively exploring what we can do to further support the wider community at this time. As part of this, we’re taking a number of factors into account to understand where we may be able to offer the best support.”
Old offer: A 50 percent food discount in all shops for NHS staff, plus free hot drinks and miso soup.
Current offer: A 15 percent NHS staff discount. Julian Metcalfe, Founder & CEO of Itsu told VICE: “As the financial impact of COVID has become clear, we’ve had to innovate, adapt and make many sacrifices with our current estate standing at just 13 open shops supporting a streamlined home delivery and takeaway service, all of which are proud to offer our ongoing 15 percent NHS staff discount.
“Our hearts and deepest gratitude will always be with the brave doctors and nurses who go to such inspiring lengths to protect our country from this terrible virus.’’
Old offer: A 50 percent discount for Blue Light cardholders, a discount service for the emergency services, NHS, social care sector and armed forces.
Current offer: A 25 percent discount for Blue Light cardholders.
A spokesperson said: “While many of our restaurants are currently closed as result of the restrictions, we want to continue to show NHS and emergency service workers some love. Our Blue Lights promo, which we are very proud to have been running for many years, gives NHS and emergency workers a 25 percent discount.”
Old offer: Free hot drinks for NHS workers from mid-May to mid-June (amounting to 450,000) as well as donations of free food to charities, local councils, food banks and care homes.
Current offer: A 10 percent discount to Blue Light cardholders.
A spokesperson also told VICE that it also “has a long-term partnership with NHS Charities Together which focuses on pairing local Starbucks stores with nearby NHS Charities to support the neighbourhoods we serve in.”
Old offer: 100,000 free meals for NHS workers (via a £10 off voucher) was committed in March. From 23rd to 27th Dec, there was a one-off £20 voucher for 80,000 NHS workers.
Current offer: There are no more food offers, but Uber offers subsidised trips for NHS staff (at 25 percent, capped at £30 per journey) and free trips to vaccination hubs for NHS staff.
An Uber spokeswoman said: “The incredible nurses, doctors and support staff of the NHS are doing heroic work at the forefront of this crisis, and everyone at Uber thanks them for their extraordinary efforts. We hope we can help in a small way as they work tirelessly day and night.”
THE COMPANIES MATCHING THEIR INITIAL PLEDGE
Old offer: A 50 percent discount to NHS crew, emergency services and armed forces.
Current offer: The 50 percent discount remains in full. Tortilla has donated “hundreds of burritos to NHS crew and volunteer vaccinators,” a spokesperson said.
Old offer: Between April and May 2020, it delivered £4m worth of pizzas to NHS staff and key workers
Current offer: From 13th January to 5th February, Domino’s will deliver £4m worth of free pizza to NHS and hospital workers in the UK and Ireland. A spokesperson also said that Domino’s is also exploring pizza drops to other frontline workers, to be announced soon.
Old offer: 25 percent off for Blue Light cardholders.
Current offer: 25 percent off for Blue Light cardholders. A spokesperson said: “It goes without saying that we’re incredibly grateful to everyone on the front line of the pandemic. To show our support, we will continue to offer our Blue Light Discount.”
THE COMPANIES DOING MORE
Old offer: A 25 percent discount to NHS workers. It was part of #FeedNHS – one of several restaurant groups donating meals to the NHS at a cost of £2 or £3 – with costs covered by public donations.
Current offer: A spokesperson said: ”We have increased our donations nationwide to almost 800 meals a week (in partnership with Deliveroo), and we've extended the NHS 25 percent off takeaway indefinitely.”
Old offer: As part of #FeedNHS, Franco Manca helped to donate 5,600 meals a day to two major hospitals in London.
Current offer: Franco Manca donated pizzas to NHS staff in London working on Christmas Day. There is also a donations page on its website where people can apply and respond to social media requests for donations.
A spokesperson said: “We did work with the team behind Feed NHS and Feed our Frontline last year, but most of our current donations are done directly. It was a bit more challenging when we closed all of our pizzeria in lockdown one, but now we have almost all of our pizzeria still open for takeaway and delivery, we can support more people alongside this too!”
Previous offer: 1,500 free meals a day for NHS workers Nando’s privately reopened six restaurants in Manchester and London specifically for this task over a two-week period from late April to early May.
Current offer: “As more restaurants reopened across the country and we opened to the public we continued to support the NHS but obviously the number of meals changed,” a spokesperson said. “While I don’t know how many meals total we have donated, I can tell you that at present we are donating food to NHS teams from more restaurants across more cities that we did in lockdown one.”
THE COMPANIES WHO DON’T HAVE THE FULL DETAILS
Old offer: The supermarket pledged to help get a million meals to NHS workers. Its press team said this target was met in 2020, along with further ad-hoc donations made by stores during the Christmas period.
Current offer: It is not known how many free meals Tesco plans to help get to the NHS in 2021. Tesco told VICE that NHS workers are invited to go to the front of any queue – if there is a queue – at any branch.
Old offer: 250,000 subs to key workers (NHS, emergency services and care homes) in a period of over four weeks across March and April.
Current offer: A spokesperson could not provide current numbers, but said: ”This lockdown we have been able to stay open supporting local communities and key workers [with free meals] by providing healthier options and offering delivery, order and collection via the Subway App or takeaway services.”
“There is also the #sendoutsubs campaign on Twitter to help reward those most in need of a sub… We’re on the lookout for anyone who may need a surprise sub for lunch.”
Previous offer: Deliveroo gave a £500,000 donation to five NHS trusts, 80,000 £20 vouchers to NHS workers and a pledge of 500,000 free meals to the NHS. Three months later, Deliveroo had donated 750,000 meals, exceeding their targets.
Current offer: Deliveroo continued donating money to the NHS but could not share further details with VICE. It also said that since November it had donated 80,000 meals to the NHS frontline staff. It has pledged to increase food deliveries and to continue fundraising and is due to make a new announcement on donations later this month.
THE COMPANIES WITH NO COMMENT
Old offer: Free hot drinks to NHS staff.
Current offer: A spokesperson said the company would not be able to comment right now.
Old offer: Free drinks for NHS, emergency and social workers.
Current offer: The press office did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
GERMAN DONER KEBAB
Current offer: The press office did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Old offer: Free hot drinks to health and social workers and emergency service personnel.
Current offer: The Greggs press office did not respond to repeated requests for comment.