The doors remain closed, the kitchens cold. But crises are big stages for exceptionally strong characters, for people who know how to help themselves in every situation, who develop new ideas from scratch, recognize needs and know how to use their talents. Chef Eric Menchon and his partner Vincent Moissonnier, owner and patron saint of Le Moissonnier, are obviously such characters. At the end of February this year, the FAZ described them as “one of the few dream couples in the top gastronomy”. And indeed, the duo seems to manoeuvre through the difficult times energetically and filled with creativity. Just a few days after the closure of restaurants, cafés and pubs was ordered in mid-March as part of the Corona containment, Le Moissonnier had already launched an exclusive delivery service and set up a logistics system that opened up the possibility to continue doing business. However, what the two Michelin-starred Cologne catering institution was able to set up in the shortest possible time has very little to do with Deliveroo & Co. The high quality standards and very personal service – two distinguishing features that have characterised Menchon and Moissonnier for over three decades – have proven to be the cornerstones of success, even under changed circumstances. Vincent Moissonnier, who in “normal” times radiates his charm in the art nouveau atmosphere of his restaurant, reveals in an interview how he and his partner succeed in proving their steadfastness with the help of their two families and the staff.
Mr Moissonnier, you reacted very early to the closure of the restaurants. When was that?
When we heard about the closure plans at the beginning of March, we first thought that the state of emergency would only last a few weeks and then we could return to normality. I wanted to give our staff a sense of security: “Don’t worry, we’re here for you. We just need some flexibility.”
How quickly did you then switch from normal restaurant operation to delivery operation?
Thanks to the great commitment of everyone involved, this was done incredibly quickly. On Tuesdays we had sat down together and on Friday we already delivered the first meals.
How did you proceed?
We have developed a menu that consists of two starters, two main courses, two side dishes and a dessert, which changes weekly. So our guests can put together their meal just like in a restaurant. For this purpose, working groups have been formed to deal with the new tasks. In addition to the four-member kitchen team, there is one group responsible for compiling and packing the meals and another for delivery. We have also expanded the shop function on the website of our wine trade, so that orders can now be placed there. It was important to us that the personal contact to our guests is also maintained: Three ladies, including my daughter Pauline, also take requests personally on the phone, advise on the selection and agree on time slots for delivery.
What does the concept look like and what distinguishes you from conventional delivery services?
Our claim is: “A piece of Le Moissonnier for you at home”. We use the Cook & Chill method for this, i.e. we prepare the food and the customer warms the food at home. Our special service starts with the packaging and ends with the warm-up instructions. We give concrete recommendations. Starting with the time at which a meal should be taken out of the fridge before it is warmed up, to suggesting the right plate. Sometimes we also expect our customers to show a little initiative, for example when they fry something themselves. I recently received the nicest compliment from a customer in Bonn: “For the first time I felt like a two-star chef. I was very pleased about that.
What is the practical procedure for ordering?
Orders are accepted every week until Thursday, 12 o’clock, delivery is on Friday and Saturday afternoon. We can bring not only the menus themselves, but also the appropriate wine or, to round off the meal, cheese from the renowned affineur Maître Antony.
How do you organize the delivery?
First of all it is important to us: The delivery is of course free of charge. Our three waitresses have been “retrained” as drivers. They will contact the customers as soon as they are in the vicinity. Usually a contactless delivery is possible. This weekend, by the way, we are also delivering food to Düsseldorf for the first time. I will deliver them personally.
Roasted Lotte in red wine-bacon sauce or a braised calf in Marengo sauce for 25 euros – the prices of your delivery service are significantly lower than those in the restaurant. How do you manage to maintain the quality?
We’re not interested in making money right now. It is much more important to us to keep the damage as low as possible, in other words: we want to manoeuvre the car through the crisis without dents. In addition, the handling is less complex, as we invest a considerable amount of time in the restaurant to prepare the food. And last but not least, we also want to accommodate our customers – after all, they order from us to help us.
How did the customers learn about your delivery service and how was your offer accepted?
We are very fortunate to have a mail distribution list with 2500 addresses after 33 business years. So we have already been able to reach many customers with a newsletter. In addition, an article was published in the local city newspaper on 17 March, which deals with the effects of the Corona crisis in the gastronomy sector. It also deals with our delivery service. And finally, it is of course word-of-mouth propaganda that helps us. In fact, we have had an amazing response. At the moment, we are cooking up to 250 meals, which is about ten times the amount of the first week. By comparison, on a normal day we used to prepare about ninety menus on average. After six weeks of work, we can cover our costs and keep our team.
Did you have to invest to manage the changeover?
We have invested in a large shock freezer. It helps us to keep the cold chain unbroken.
What are your plans?
We would like to become more interesting from week to week. Easter was a great success, now we are working on a special for Mother’s Day. We offer brand-new films on Vimeo, by the way, they tease the customer with the weekly offer.