It is not one innovation but a series of quick-thinking adaptations that has helped the MICHELIN-starred modern barbecue restaurant, Burnt Ends, grow from strength to strength during the Circuit Breaker period.
Running operations out of their shophouse venue on Keong Saik Road, the team led by head chef Yvette Lin has set up an entirely new takeaway system, expanded their bakery offerings and created follow-along videos to bolster sales of their meat packs.
Embracing new opportunities
At the start of the Circuit Breaker period, the introduction of a takeaway and delivery service at Burnt Ends was met with great interest, and the number of orders surged. “Everybody was really excited. There were a lot of people who texted us privately, saying, hey I couldn’t get a seat but now I can get it on takeaway,” Lin said.
Even so, the transition was no walk in the park. Lin and her team observed that customers had starkly different preferences when it came to takeaway fare, and quickly tweaked their menus. Lin explained: “Singapore is built on a lot of hawker culture, comfort food, street food. So when you think of takeaways, you need to tap back to that primal desire to want to have simple food.”
To cater to the hefty demand for simple and small takeaway dishes rather than large sets, the restaurant drew up new recipes with diverse options for fuss-free food, such as wraps and sandwiches. New items such as weekend pizza specials are also unveiled every week to spice up the restaurant’s offerings.
Despite the high volume of orders that now comes through Burnt Ends’ takeaway system, the restaurant tries to remain true to its philosophy of freshness — or “out of the oven, out of the grill, and straight to the customer,” as Lin puts it.
The restaurant’s operating hours are divided into 15-minute blocks, and there is a cap on the number of orders allowed during each period. Food is made à la minute, and never prepared in advance, to ensure peak freshness. Delivery drivers are also scheduled to pick up food in sync with the restaurant’s 15-minute blocks.
Burnt Ends has also expanded the variety of their baked goods, by turning their pastry section into a full-fledged on-site bakery that produces small batches of donuts, scones and focaccia on top of their usual menu of buns and sourdough breads. The restaurant runs a subscription system for their baked goods, and customers order online before coming in to pick up their food. “The response was really, really surprising. We got a lot of new following just for our bakery items," Lin said.
Engaging customers at home
Since many people are now spending more time at home, the restaurant team also came up with ways to engage their followers. Tapping into their expertise in preparing meat, Lin and Burnt Ends chef-owner David Pynt helps to make videos showing their customers how to make steak, the “Burnt Ends way”. The restaurant prepares and sells meat packs for people to follow along with these videos.
In these meat kits, there are sausages made in-house at Burnt Ends, tomahawk steaks and pork chops, paired with different barbecue sauces and spice rubs. “Burnt Ends is not just about our cooking technique, it’s also what we look for in our ingredients, what we look for in our suppliers. It’s a chain," Lin explained. "By changing the way we get our produce out, that will make sure we get the suppliers going, and everyone survives this," Lin adds.
Customers can also order wines to go with their meals from the restaurant's wine distribution arm, Burnt Ends Cellars, which proffers carefully curated bottles by independent winemakers and wineries that the team trusts and endorses.
Building a strong team
The absence of customers in the restaurant has brought the team even closer than before, according to Lin. “During normal operations, it’s always the battle of back-of-house producing and front-of-house chasing, handling customers. But right now we are all on the same frontline.”
She adds: “The line has greyed between front-of-house and back-of-house, because there are no customers, no one else. It’s just us, getting food out.” Keeping the Burnt Ends family together was the critical reason that compelled Lin to continuously innovate to ensure that jobs were protected.
Appreciating their guests
Acknowledging that the difficulties faced over the past two months were temporary in the grand scheme of things, Lin very much looks forward to welcoming customers back to dine in once the Circuit Breaker restrictions are relaxed from 19 June. “When you become a chef, one of the biggest things is to see a person’s reaction after they have a first bit of your food, and to actually physically see people enjoying food that you cooked with a lot of effort, with a lot of love. I miss that human interaction," she added.
Reflecting on the journey of ups and downs during the circuit breaker period, Lin muses, “One big thing about this COVID-19 [situation] is that you do realise that we have customers who genuinely want us to get through this… They don’t have to come, they can go somewhere else. [But] they choose to come here, drive their car here — hot day, hot weather — to pick up their food. It may be just one Sanger, but they still come every single week.”
This article is the fourth in a 4-part series that looks at how Michelin restaurants in Singapore have banded together as a community, pivoted their businesses and introduced new innovations to continue raising the bar for exceptional dining experiences in Singapore during the city's efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19.
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