By Tara O’Connor, local democracy reporter
With restaurant doors closed for at least another couple of months, a Croydon businessman has come up with a way for diners to get the full restaurant experience without leaving their cars.
Suleman Raza, 39, opened up Spice Village in May last year from wedding venue Grand Sapphire Hotel which has been hit hard by the pandemic – he runs branches of the Pakistani restaurant in Southall and Southend.
At the weekend the Imperial Way venue launched an eat-in car service which uses a specially designed tray which slots into the front of the car.
“We’ve designed a bespoke tray, the idea is when you come in we take your order and then bring your food to your car,” said Suleman who has run the wedding business for five years.
“The response from customers has been amazing, we’ve had non stop calls coming in from people trying to make reservations.
“Before we were doing normal takeaway and we’ve been working on this idea for a few months.
“A lot of customers have been missing out on dining in so we thought how can we make this Covid safe?”
Suleman said that while customers can’t dine in, the service will continue – the only limitation at the moment is that he just has six of the special trays.
The service is now running daily from 5-10pm and diners can book a one hour slot – or the food can still be served to the car without the tray without a reservation.
The Croydon resident says it took a few attempts to get the design of the tray right – the winning creation rests in the window of each side of the car.
“Because you have to have the car windows open we’ve set up some background music in the car park,” added the businessman.
So far the most ordered dish has been the mixed grill, a platter of seekh kebabs, chicken and lamb tikka.
Other popular choices are the restaurant’s masala fish and pani puri, a small puffed bread filled with a delicious mix of spices, potato, onion and chickpeas.
Setting up Spice Village at the Grand Sapphire Hotel was a way to make money while large weddings have been unable to take place. It also means eight members of staff have been kept on full time while the rest are furloughed, it usually employs more than 100 people.
Suleman says that in the past year the business has lost more than £2 million in profit and looking forward he hopes that large weddings will be able to take place again in the next few months.
The 39-year-old has been juggling running the business with helping his wife home school their four children aged between eight and two.
“It has been a devastating time for the business, we’ve completely run out of reserves,” he said.
“We’ve been doing all we can to survive for another couple of months. We are keeping our fingers crossed weddings can take place this summer.”
The venue is already booked nearly every weekend from June to August.
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