Franco Manca opened five stores for delivery and collection on Friday after a two week in trial in Chiswick. David Page, chairman of parent company Fulham Shore, talks to MCA about the benefits of flat sharing pizzaiolas and why pre-coronavirus rents are not going to happen again.

How are you finding the crisis?

I’m old enough to remember the three-day week as a schoolboy. The electricity was turned off in domestic houses at six in the evening, so you’d be in the dark with candles. That’s pretty bizarre. And then of course there have been various recessions.

Tell us about your reopenings.

We opened Chiswick a couple of weeks ago to test out social distancing, and that’s now our model. We’re opening five more today, Balham, Belsize Park Broadgate, East Dulwich and Westbourne Grove.

And how did it go in Chiswick?

You deep clean the place at the end of every shift, and clean the loos every 15-20 minutes. There’s no dine at all, only delivery. The delivery drivers come in one at a time, they pick up food that’s already been placed on the table, so there’s a distance thing between the drivers. And we also do collection, so people can ring and pay, and when the food is ready, they come in to pick it up themselves. There’s very little interaction between the staff and the customers. Staff wear masks gloves and plastic aprons.

Are you running a reduced menu?

We’ve got the same menu, but it’s just pizza. With some cold things like burrata. It’s not an extensive menu, but I’m sure people are quite happy to get anything.

We’ve also reopened The Real Greek in Marylebone, which is mostly serving staff at the hospital on Tottenham Court Road. We got an email from the hospital saying, is there any chance we could do some souvlaki and chips because they were fed up with all the free pizza and burgers!

Have staff been keen to come back to work?

Funnily enough, we’ve employed chefs that have been sharing flats together for the last three or four weeks. They come to work together and they go home and live together, self-isolating in flat share arrangements.

We’re opening for six hours in the evening, with seven shifts a week, so we employ two chefs for 42 hours a week. We started off like that because we didn’t want a whole rotating workforce potentially bringing in possible infections.

We’ll see how it goes in the next few weeks. We’re looking at our labour pools to see whether we can say to people, it would be really helpful if you shared accommodation and came to work, to create a pod or a pool of people who’re self-isolating together.

We are all keen to get the trade going again. We want to have enough trade to employ the people, what we don’t want is to end this period of furloughing and have to start getting into redundancies.

This is one of the many reasons why we’re starting to get it going, so we’re ready in a couple of months’ time to reopen in some way.

Has your delivery experience helped?

Normal takeout/delivery is about 15%-20% of our business. So if we can go back to that level and maybe a bit more we’ll be doing maybe 30% or so.

The new locations were previously good delivery and takeout branches for us. They were also physically big enough that we could do the social distancing and there was lots of room for people to keep apart.

Who are you working with on delivery?

We’ve had had relationships with both Deliveroo and Uber Eats, but we’re doing Deliveroo at the moment for the trial. We’re still very friendly with Uber Eats and might open some more sites in a few weeks time and try it with them.

I think that old one-off relationship with delivery companies is over. A lot of places now have two or three tablets. Effectively the drivers work for all three companies anyway. They’re all freelance.

How do you see dine-in returning?

Slowly. The bigger restaurants will be easier as we have the space to spread out tables.

But the real issue as with all the other operators in the sector is rents. The landlords are obviously keen for us to reopen, but we won’t have the turnover to justify the rents we were paying before. We can do more delivery than before, but we’ll have half the turnover initially of dine in. And that will build slowly.

We’re talking to all our landlords now and explaining that the rent they were receiving before is not going to happen again.

I think nine months is probably too short for a time out, I think we’ve got to take a two or three year view.

Any plans to raise further investment or refinance?

No, we haven’t raised investment. Obviously we’re on AIM [stock exchange] so that is a possibility. We have a banking facility, and we’ve got cash in the bank, so we still have somewhere to go at the end.