Simon Prockter reveals how he is re-inventing the takeaway.

Simon Prockter is a serial entrepreneur, whose latest venture is Housebites.com, a new food delivery service that offers home-cooked take-aways cooked by chefs living in your local area. Prior to setting up Housebites, Simon founded SpeedDater.co.uk, turning it into the largest singles events company in Europe before selling in 2008, but Housebites, he says, is proving his most exciting venture yet. We caught up with him to find out more.

Housebites came about… after a bad takeaway. I ordered from a market leading service one night but it was delivered late. When it arrived, the containers were sealed with microwave film suggesting it had been pre-cooked. It set me wondering who cooked the food and what their qualifications were. I believed the problems were easily solvable and set out to achieve this.

Housebites works… just like any other food delivery service. A customer enters their postcode and sees a menu based on the food being offered by their local chefs. They order online and the food is delivered hot at their desired time.

The big difference is… that our local chefs are mostly experienced ex-restaurant chefs offering choice you simply can’t get anywhere else. On tonight’s menu for instance you can order meals such as ‘Duck Confit with Lentil Beetroot Salad’ or ‘Pan Fried Panko Chicken’. A customer can see the chef’s rating, biography and what other people think about their food. The chefs also all cook from their homes and, as a result, have to complete hygiene exams and are regulated by their local authority - just like any restaurant.

There are currently… 54 chefs operating across London, Brighton and Manchester. Bristol launches on the 31st October and we aim to have 100 outlets (chefs) by Spring 2013.

It’s not that hard to recruit chefs…They can earn more money than in a restaurant and they get to run their own business. However, we only want the best chefs so only about 2 per cent of applications get through. Most chefs find us so we don’t spend much on recruitment.

Giving customers choice is… paramount to the service, which means having lots of chefs in confined areas so there’s always someone on. Our operations team are continually imparting business intelligence to the chefs and those that accept our help can see their orders increase two to threefold.

Housebites is an everyday product… We’re not a niche foodie product but our takeaways should be freshly prepared, cooked by experienced chefs, healthier and more service-oriented than others. We’re here for anyone who wants something better from their local takeaway service.

We have ambitious plans for the future... We aim to be nationwide within 18 months and also have great plans for our private catering arm, Housebites Plus, which is scaling incredibly fast. We have some other product ideas but you’ll have to wait and see what they are.

We’re lucky to have not had any takeaway horror stories yet… although a courier broke his bike on duty recently so the chef put the last order in a taxi - the meal never arrived, so there’s a well fed taxi driver out there somewhere!

New customers tend play it safe… our best-selling dishes are slow cooked casseroles and curries. We refer to these as crowd pleasers and try to ensure all chefs have a few ‘crowd pleasers’ on their menus.

I’m lucky that I get to try a lot of our chefs’ food… Chef Laurent’s Truffle Mash is very hard to beat followed by Chef Ollie’s Blueberry and Pecan Pie.

I order takeaways too… a couple of times a month - from Housebites, obviously. I’m quite open on cuisine but always look out for Japanese. The last time I ordered takeaway, it was Thai influenced, from Housebites chef Fabio, and was amazing. As for good takeaway movies, I’m a sucker for a bit of Sci-Fi, so any Star Wars movie - Fifth Element or Inception - will do it for me.

There are so many great recipe websites out there… new kids on the block like Yummly and Foodily are great examples, but my loyalty still lies with BBC Food – there’s nothing like knowing you’re cooking something that Ken Hom serves in his restaurant.

As for apps… Great British Chefs is a beautiful and well-built app with some really complicated recipes from the likes of Tom Aitken if you’re in the mood for showing off. I also like Platter which is a community of recipes and food inspiration.

The dream is… for Housebites to roll off peoples’ tongues when ordering-in, so instead of saying “let’s order a curry” they’ll say “Let’s order a Housebite”.

Housebites launches in Bristol on 31st October. For more information visit www.housebites.com.

October 2012

Emily Jenkinson