Barnet High Street is busily adapting to changes in trading patterns that developed during lockdown, and which seem to be here to stay given the ability of so many employees to work from home.
A dozen or more couriers riding scooters are lined up all day outside fast-food outlets such as McDonald’s and KFC waiting to collect snacks and meals that have been ordered on-line for home delivery.
Lunchtimes are especially busy as are early evenings, but there is often a steady demand throughout the day indicating that many more people are ordering food and drink to consume at home.
Since the easing of lockdown – when demand for home deliveries really took off – there has been no sign of this trade tailing off and the boost to daytime turnover is being experienced by other cafes and food outlets along the High Street.
Daytime demand for coffee, teas, and sandwiches in outer London suburbs such as Barnet increased significantly during lockdown with many more residents forced to work from home and the WFH phenomenon has had a significant impact, lasting far longer than many experts predicted.
High Barnet’s McDonald’s and KFC say they each regularly receive anything from 20 to 40 or more orders a day for home delivery which are then collected by riders working for Uber Eat, Deliveroo or other couriers who are lined up outside.
Leonardo, who was just setting off on a lunchtime delivery with a couple of McDonald’s bags in his panier, said he worked a 12-hour day.
“It can be boring just waiting for an order, and you have to keep your eye on your mobile phone all the time just in case you get an alert, but we are a great crowd and get on well together.”
While they wait the riders, wearing helmets, visors and sometimes face masks, sit on their scooters, or stand around on the pavement, keeping an ever-watchful eye on their mobile phones in the hope picking up a delivery.
They prefer to keep themselves to themselves; some speak little or no English. They tend to brush away prying questions and certainly do not like being photographed.
Some shoppers and pedestrians find the presence of so many couriers, hanging around in groups, rather disconcerting, even somewhat intimidating.
In recent months police officers from Barnet’s Safer Neighbourhood Team have spoken to several of the riders reminding them not to crowd around the entrances to popular outlets such as McDonald’s and KFC – a point reinforced by shop managers anxious to ensure customers are not inconvenienced.
For a time, many of the couriers in both cars and scooters gathered in Moxon Street near the junction with the High Street.
After an argument between several of them over a disputed delivery one courier was issued with an anti-social behaviour order.
Most of the scooters carry L plates – indicating that the riders have a two-year provisional licence, a probationary period during which they can familiarise themselves before taking their test.