As a surly, leather-clad youth handed me Percy Pigs for breakfast before I’d even donned my knickers, I knew there were parts of the new food landscape that I’d not willingly give up. In the past seven days, my local M&S foodhall has started delivering by bike to my door. Within 25 minutes of ordering, I had full-butter croissants, bits-in orange juice, a fresh bloomer, teabags and jam. This Shangri-la existence was unthinkable three months ago: Marks & Sparks did not do anything as déclassé as Deliveroo, nor did Waitrose deign to send its fancy-pants spelt loaf and Burford Brown eggs on a bike with a two-hour “rapid” dispatch. Then the virus came, messed things up and pushed people to be inventive, revise their standards and make money however. We’ve had services we didn’t even know we wanted. Now, a life without them will feel only half-lived.
Good luck, for example, to the council busy-bodies who eventually try to pull the plug on straight-to-the-park wine delivery. That genie is now well and truly out of the bottle. Closed pubs and wine shops pivoted to supplying picnickers. “Picnicking” is what we’re now calling getting pie-eyed in the park if you’re wearing a Boden frock, incidentally; if you’re wearing a stained tracksuit, you’re still officially a “street-drinker”. Regardless, there’ll be no more byelection votes for anyone who tries to put a stop to this once the virus passes. Likewise, publicans will be hard pressed to call time on collection-only Sunday lunches, because too many of us have grown accustomed to roast beef and trimmings without going through the faff of securing a table. We’ve tasted the new, lazy, have-it-all-right-now world, and it’s delicious.
But I do worry for businesses lost in the quake. M&S by bike, for example, will have a good go at murdering the returning weekend cafe trade. The Deliveroo fee on my order was £4.50, which is both eye-wateringly steep and also the price of a plate of toasted sourdough at a hip boho cafe. The first option is a bike appearing laden with mollifying treats: Colin the Caterpillar cake and mojito in cans that you can consume from the safety of your sofa while watching Saturday Kitchen. The second is leaving your front door to eat toast served in what feels like a working creche by someone wearing a singlet and displaying armpit hair. I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely teetering on preferring the former.
What concerns me is that, as well as those cafes, Deliveroo and its kind will in the coming years kill off supermarkets entirely. Or at least turn them into hubs. By targeting grocery supply, the delivery kings will kill off even the arduous task of popping to the shop for “just bits”. It was, after all, always the bits that were the pain in the neck. They were the problem we didn’t know we needed solving: the missing herbs, the bag of peas, the single lemon. That and the early-morning schlepp to find breakfast items. Those bits that made the weekly big shop stretch much further, but were another to-do on your list.
Once, bit-fetching was the job mainly of children. In the 1970s, if I sat too long looking bored, I’d be dispatched to the shop carrying the gas bill with a scribbled note on the back. Yes, I was hoping to lie about watching Hong Kong Phooey, yet here I was again buying a can of Nestlé Tip Top and a Heinz steamed pudding. By the 90s, we’d got sniffy about sending infants over two lanes of moving traffic to fetch sliced Hovis. It has, I think, something to do with health and safety.
Such errands wound up back in the hands of the adults. Thankfully, in 2020, there’s now an app for that. This app means no more loading the child’s seat into the car or finding bags for life or hoping for a car parking space. No more mascara or matching socks in case you bump into a neighbour. No more hair-combing, hand-sterilising or looking for a £1 coin for the trolley. It’s an app that keeps us safe from the current virus, and all new, fresh, still-undiscovered ones.
I shall miss the local Sainsbury’s when it is eventually just a boarded-up grocery wish-fulfilment centre surrounded by waiting scooters in an abandoned high street of boarded-up cafes and empty pubs that pivoted to supplying park drinkers. But still, we must embrace the future. And did I mention Percy Pigs for breakfast? It’s looking good from here.