Virtual caviar to quarantine castles, how luxury adapted to lockdown (2023)

In recent years, the luxury world has become all about in-person experiences - but with millions of people going under lockdown, businesses have found themselves having to rethink their strategies.

Over the past few months, the idea of sitting in a packed restaurant or travelling to a lavish resort has become tinged with anxiety about personal safety.

As the luxury business has grappled with its new normal, priorities have changed with brands putting health and safety first and foremost; attempting to completely eradicate the risk of coronavirus with high tech sanitation practices, minimising or even completely eradicating contact and investing in COVID-19 tests for customer-facing staff.

Tied to this is an increased demand for high-end rental homes, yachts and even castles as remotely placed as possible, as those who can afford them take social distancing to the extreme.

Oliver Corkhill, the CEO of luxury travel operator Leo Trippi, told Insider that demand for holidays had dipped compared to last year but he had seen a spike in customers seeking out luxe long-term local accommodation.

Others have found ways to adapt their experience to cater to people at home, with Michelin-starred restaurants making unexpected appearances on delivery apps.

Luxury food delivery service SUPPER was inundated with requests from restaurants - and even high-end food halls and department stores - to join its service.

SUPPER CEO Peter Georgiou told Insider, “Demand has been incredible and far outweighed anything I could have imagined pre-covid/lockdown. Anyone that needs to get a physical product to customers is in need of a delivery process or service.”

“Pre-covid, I think restaurants didn’t think that seriously about delivery in the high-end space. ‘Customers want the atmosphere and experience’ was always the response,” he continued.

“Fast forward to February/March 2020 and now every high-end restaurant and store wants to get onto our platform. We have 'on-boarded' about 30 completely new brands and have about 50 queuing to get on. Our restaurant liaison fields about thirty new enquiries a day... she is really being bombarded from all sides,” he said.

Michelin-starred delivery meals and virtual caviar tastings

Your local pub isn’t the only one experimenting with delivery and collection-only meals during this period, as a number of Michelin-starred restaurants have joined in. Fine dining establishments can be found on Deliveroo or SUPPER, with Hakkasan offering up a £180 champagne brunch while others like Gymkhana and Brigadiers have recently entered the delivery game.

Others such as Ollie Dabbous’ Hide have developed weekend delivery menus - complete with wine pairing - and the option to talk to a sommelier about the perfect red or white to go with your dish.

SUPPER’s Peter Georgiou remarked, “The really big names in the London restaurant space were well ahead of the curve [in setting up a delivery service]. They came to us in February with an idea about getting started. To be fair, most were Asian cuisines, so maybe they could see what was happening in China. By roughly the time the pandemic hit the UK, they were almost ready to go live as a delivery-only option.”

“Once we added a few, the rest all wanted to join quickly. Since then, it has been full-on ever since,” he continued. He added that other restaurants “buried their head in the sand and took the government [furlough] money” and that he “can’t blame them”, saying that there was no way anyone could have anticipated how long lockdown would carry on for.

The reason so many luxury businesses have turned to SUPPER over other delivery services is down to their high-end approach to delivery, with the company investing in cutting edge vehicles and training for their delivery staff (who are fully employed directly by SUPPER).

“The drivers are all trained and they dress pretty nice too. They are also very polite, that alone is a big difference,” Georgiou said. “I want my delivery service to run like a 5-star hotel or a high-end restaurant.”

“We have these bespoke Japanese scooters that we use to ferry the food about. They have a gyroscope, which ensures the food doesn’t slosh. They have the ability to keep food hot and cold at the same time and have huge capacity. They’re really amazing and very eye-catching. They bring the service all together,” he continued.

Georgiou added that although they were striving to be the “best delivery company in London”, they were “not perfect” - which is something that fine dining restaurants attempting to do it all on their own have encountered too.

In New York City, celebrity favourite Carbone got off to a rocky start. After announcing that it would be doing pick up and delivery, the restaurant was faced with an onslaught of delivery drivers and keen foodies clamouring outside its doors for Michelin-starred pasta - overwhelming kitchen staff, drawing crowds outside and leading the police to show up multiple times to enforce social distancing guidelines.

Other culinary businesses have found creative ways to reach their customers in lockdown, with San Francisco-based company The Caviar Co. offering virtual tastings.

The brand has weekly ‘Tasting Flights’, with its latest $115 including a package of three 10g jars of caviar, creme fraiche, a mother of pearl caviar spoon and an accompanying Instagram Live with two experts in the field - with 20% of proceeds going towards restaurant employee relief funds.

Coronavirus screening, no-contact travel and high tech sanitisation

Adam Twidell, the CEO of private chartered jet company PrivateFly, told Evening Standard Insider’s Marissa DeSantis in March that they were “very busy indeed” with “short-term enquiries” over the pandemic period. Revealing that there had been a 50-60% increase in enquiries compared to the previous year, taking a private jet has become not just a luxury - but a health and safety precaution.

Speaking to The Guardian, Twidell said that they had seen a boom in enquiries from high net worth individuals and companies looking to get their staff out of coronavirus hotspots. He explained that the interest was tied to a desire to “avoid exposure to crowds in [commercial] cabins and airport terminals.”

He added, “In many cases, these are passengers who don’t usually fly by private aviation but are looking to protect themselves, their families and employees.”

Blade, a company that offers private helicopter flights in the Hamptons, has announced that all staff (including pilots) and customers would have to undergo rigorous COVID-19 screening before boarding a flight. They announced that masks were mandatory and that helicopters would be “electrostatically decontaminated” after every flight.

We spoke with Will Senior, the co-founder of luxury car transport business iChauffeur, about what changes his business had made. Although he said that the transport industry had “adapted well”, they required “more nationwide consistency.”

Senior said that it was “essential to install confidence” in customers and said, “We have been informing clients of our updated safety procedures, hour by hour, by monitoring TfL and the Government’s channels for any new guidance.”

He added, “We have role-played collections and drop-offs, and carried out time and motion studies, to understand the ways in which we could adapt our processes with a safe and personal service in mind.”

As for how they’ve been adapting their model? They now implement a ‘Contactless Travel’ protocol which was launched recently. Senior elaborated, “[It] literally means no physical contact between our clients and chauffeurs. As the first operator to introduce a primary antibacterial process, reinforced with secondary UVC light technology to all vehicle ‘touch points’ and passenger’s luggage and personal items, we are leading the way in cutting-edge safety precautions with a ‘double clean’ before and after each journey.”

“The ultraviolet rays active in the germicidal light wands kill 99.9% of germs - without the use of hazardous chemicals. This disinfectant method is currently being used on the frontline in hospitals, pharmacies and airports,” he continued.

All of their chauffeurs are also required to wear masks.

Lockdown getaways, Hamptons vacation homes and castle stays

Travelling to distant destinations for a resort stay may seem like a faraway dream for those in lockdown and luxury travel operators have had to adjust. In the case of Leo Trippi, a travel concierge service that specialises in ski holidays, they’ve noted an increase in domestic interest with Swiss residents enquiring about chalets.

CEO Oliver Corkhill told Insider that they had seen a decrease in booking between March and April, though things had picked up slightly in May. Corkhill, who called the ski industry a “resilient bunch”, said, “We have a loyal group of Swiss based customers who have continued to travel domestically throughout, renting large luxury chalets in the Engadin, Valais and Vaud."

"Other clients have been looking at longer term solutions here in the UK – private estates, houses, castles etc - either to get out of London or after flying in from overseas. A few have been isolating further afield on yachts or in very remote villas - it's all largely depended on where the guests normally reside as our customer profile is very international,” he continued.

In the UK, the government has urged people to stay at their primary residence for the foreseeable future. High profile figures such as members of the Royal Family moved to secondary residences at the start of the pandemic as others including Chief Advisor to the Prime Minister Dominic Cummings have been criticised for moving into homes in the countryside.

As for specific changes Leo Trippi has made in the wake of the pandemic, Corkhill explained that it “really helps” that their business is tailored to each specific client. He said, “We're working closely with our property owners, property operators and suppliers to discuss specific requests of each guest and make sure they're accommodated. This could range from providing service without seeing or having any contact with the team right through to giving more assurance around booking conditions with lower (and refundable) deposits.”

“We definitely don’t have a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach as everyone values different things and holds a different meaning of ‘luxury experiences’. We've been using the lockdown as a time to connect with many of our customers and seeing how they're doing, how we can add value for them and support their families,” he continued.

Travel has been one of the hardest hit industries over the course, with the World Travel and Tourism Council predicting in April that 100.8 million jobs were at risk in the travel sector and that the industry could lose $2.7 trillion - a steep incline from their previously prediction of $2.1 trillion.

Corkhill said that Leo Trippi had “kept all of our team working 100% throughout the pandemic” from home, explaining that they were focusing on “developments for the future with everyone pulling together to really ensure we come out the other side stronger.”

Speaking to the industry at large, he said, “Speaking to our specialist area of the wider travel industry, there have been some great initiatives around trying to get people to book with confidence - flexible booking and cancellation policies. I believe (and hope) there will be a move towards more regulatory requirements to bring more consistency across agents, operators and ancillary suppliers for the benefit of customers.”

Many of the most celebrated high end hotels in the world have been offering stays free of charge to frontline healthcare workers, as others, including the Mark Hotel in New York, announced potential summer opening dates.

Beauty at home, COVID-19 training and secret house calls

Botox, professional manicures and other cosmetic procedures/beauty treatments more or less went out the window the moment lockdown fell into place. Speaking to Evening Standard Insider journalist Marissa DeSantis, New York City dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon Dr. Dendy Engelman explained that she had “probably four times the amount of cosmetic patients” in the two weeks leading up to lockdown as people sought out last minute Botox and fillers.

Cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank confirmed that he knew of “many dermatologists, non-dermatologists and med spas not only making house calls but opening up shop against mandates to do so” - adding that there was “money involved here.”

Many other beauty practitioners have chosen to stick to the government’s advice and social distance around the world, with nail artists finding creative ways to help their customers. Celebrity nail artists Patricia Yankee, Bettina Cherry and Aliyah Johnson have turned to creating press on nails to make up for lost revenue, which have been seen on stars including Chrissy Teigen and Ariana Grande.

In fact, Yankee even revealed that there had been a surge in demand for her press on nails which was “an unexpected surprise” - especially after Teigen shouted out her products on Instagram. She wrote on Instagram, “I'm trying to handle an overwhelming (but so appreciated) sudden surge of orders on my own due to the current pandemic times.”

Yankee has since advocated for other nail artists to turn to press on and glue on nails, sharing tutorials online to help others looking to get into it plus detailed product breakdowns.

Hairdressers have attempted to bring at-home offerings to their clients, with celebrity favourites Rita Zahan and Benjamin Mohapi curating hair packages for clients and walking them through the careful process of cutting their own bangs or dyeing their hair.

In the case of hair dyeing, Mohapi explained to Microprocessing, “What we’ve been doing is we’ve been mixing that [color] formula down, shrink-wrapping it, putting it in containers. We’ve given them gloves and cotton wool and barrier cream and all this stuff that they would need. Then our colorists get on Zoom and literally talk them through it bit by bit.”

Speaking to Forbes, make-up artist Daniel Martin (who has worked for celebrities including the Duchess of Sussex) revealed that beauty professionals in other countries were “wearing masks” when working. Predicting a “change in etiquette on set”, he predicted that the number of people working on professional sets would be diminished to just the “essentials.”

He continued, “We’ll get back to work, but how we do our work will definitely change. Instead of doing hair and makeup at the same time, it’ll be the model and hairdresser and then the model and makeup artist.”

There has also been a surge of hair and make-up professionals enrolling in Barbicide’s COVID-19 Certification Course, which is centred on training beauty professionals on “infection control in salons, spas, and barbershops.” It is based on the “most current information” and is free to any beauty professional, culminating with a certificate for beauty professionals to display when they are able to reopen.

Celebrity hair and make-up artists have had to learn to work on virtual shoots, where they coached models and celebrities to do their own make-up over Zoom. Speaking to Microprocessing, New York make-up artist Caitlin Wooters revealed that she has had to learn to adapt to what make-up products a model has on hand.

She explained, “I’ll reference the images of the model’s makeup collection when we’re on the Zoom call. I’ll be like, ‘Pick up the pink-handled brush with the white head.’ Sometimes I’ll even draw on [a photo of] somebody’s face in a text to show them what we’re going to do.”

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