Consumer demand for a shared food experience is “like a coiled spring,” and will transfer to other channels if dine-in is no longer an option, MCA’s The Conversation has heard.

Speaking at the event, Pizza Pilgrims co-founder Thom Elliot said that although every new government restriction prompts an immediate sales dip, each prolonged period without change sees sales grow again.

“The trend we see every single time is that if any decision stays still for two weeks, if there is two blessed weeks of no changes, the only thing you see is a track up,” he said. “Every single day it goes up and up until the next decision knocks us for six again.”

Given this recurring trend, Elliot said there “isn’t any doubt that the demand is there,” and advised operators to take advantage of it through the second lockdown via alternative revenue streams, such as at-home kits and delivery.

During the initial lockdown earlier this year, Pizza Pilgrims launched its own at-home kit – pizza in the post – out of its London Victoria pizzeria.

In the first month, which only equated to about five days on sale because the businesses was unable to fulfil the huge demand, pizza in the post brought in approximately £160k worth of revenue for the brand.

Since then, demand for the product has dipped slightly, although Elliot said it is still seeing sales equivalent to two or three pizzerias, and having always suspected a second lockdown was an “inevitability,” the business is much better prepared to tackle its expected uptick this time around.

“We have set up a whole dedicated facility in South London,” Elliot explained. “And with the restaurants closed we’re going to redirect a lot of focus to increasing the product offering, increasing the packaging we can offer, and working with other partners to get into more places.

“The scope for it is basically endless, we haven’t even scratched the surface.”

And whilst the additional revenue brought in via pizza in the post is clearly an important factor, Elliot added that the initiative also brings something far more valuable in its ability to connect with customers both in and beyond its London-based Deliveroo reach.

“It has connected us with a whole lot of people that want to connect from their homes or haven’t connected with us before,” he said. “And I think if you can find that thing, whatever it is, so that people are saying they can’t wait for you to reopen, that’s the most important aim.

“It’s to be able to still be that shining light that hospitality was before this, and make sure that people will remember that so as soon as they can come back, they will.”

And given the bleak outlook for the next few months, CGA unit director of food and retail Karl Chessell added that operators would be wise to follow in Pizza Pilgrims’ footsteps.

With CGA’s latest data to the week ending 24 October revealing that sites in tier 1 were trading at about 72% revenue year-on-year, compared to those in tier 2 and 3 which were both less than 50%, Chessell said that it will be vital for operators to consider alternative revenue streams and ways to engage with customers both in and beyond the next lockdown.

“Since that peak period in August during Eat Out to Help Out, we’ve seen about seven weeks of continuing sales decline at a national level,” he said. “So, it’s already been a challenging period for the sector and clearly the lockdown is only going to reinforce that.

“It is hard to see a situation where on 2 December everything’s back to some sort of normality so I think brands would be smart to engage with delivery and other channels to make sure they can at least bring in some revenue.”