Today, April 12, restaurants, pubs, cafes and bars begin their gradual reopening, authorized by law to serve customers on terraces, roadsides and in beer gardens. It’s mid-April and the sun is shining in London, but it’s England and it’s cold – at lunchtime, just eight degrees Celsius. Customers, for now, seem defiant; nibble on the bite to get out and enter restaurants after months of lockdown.
Restaurant dining rooms have been closed for four months; the longest they’ve been empty since the Covid-19 pandemic first shook the industry over a year ago. During those four months, many businesses remained open for take-out, continuing to serve their communities; some have completely reinvented their offers; some waited for it; some did not, as they did last year.
Before the first big date for hospitality in the government’s reopening “roadmap”, several chefs and restaurateurs from across town shared their thoughts on returning guests after so long.
Keshia Sakarah, from the excellent Caribbean restaurant Caribe in Brixton; James Lowe of Michelin Star Lyle’s hibernated and the lockdown hit Flor / Asap Pizza; Mandy Yin, from the duo Holloway Road Sambal Shiok and Sambal to Go; Dan Morgenthau, of the central trio Quality Chop House, Quality Wines and Clipstone; Missy Flynn, of the future soho darling Rita; and Mitshel Ibrahim, from perhaps the Pandemic restaurant in London, Hackney’s Ombra, explains what they’ve done to prepare, what reservations look like, and how they expect staff and customers to cope in a very different world than they do. they left in 2020.
The interviews below have been edited for clarity.
After being closed for so long, what do you think of opening next week?
Keshia Sakarah, Caraïbes, Brixton: “Excited to go back to the kitchen and meet new and old customers, but a little anxious to have been closed since December and still be in a pandemic. ”
James Lowe, Flor, ASAP Pizza, Lyle’s: “People seem to have forgotten that we always worry about being busy. Restaurants had problems when they were allowed to stay open! We had uncertainties; we were just more used to it. We now owe a lot of money, we have a mountain of debt that we need to get rid of. ”
Mandy Yin, Sambal Shiok: “We reopened for take out / delivery last month, so it’s not a standing start for us to reopen for outdoor dining next week. In addition, we do not take any reservations for our outdoor seats, as the arrangement is very informal. [on Holloway Road] – like a street market.
Dan Morgenthau, Restaurants Woodhead: “Four months is a long time for a restaurant to close! There is of course a lot of excitement about going back to doing what we love the most, there is also a lot of worry too – because we want to deliver a brilliant experience, but we know our muscle memory is a little distorted! Also because the last 13 months have been so deadly for those in the hospitality industry.
“Fortunately, being able to interact with our customers in person will be very satisfying. […] nothing quite compares to the hustle and bustle of service. I don’t think we can underestimate how much we all missed this.
Missy Flynn, Rita: “We’re not opening this week as we’re still building the restaurant, but I’m excited and nervous about everything else opening up. Glad we have a little time to get down to it to be honest it was interesting to see central London suddenly come to life with many structures standing near us in Covent Garden and Soho.
John Devitt, Koya: “The work we have done in the lockdown has allowed us to rethink a different direction. It was intense.
What do reservations look like? And did they surprise you?
Mitshel Ibrahim, Ombra: “We get a lot of bookings. It didn’t surprise me, people really can’t wait to reunite with their loved ones for a catch-up at a lunch or birthday party. I expect him to mellow when everyone can have guests inside.
“On the other hand, we also received a host of cancellations. People are booking a bunch of seats and then canceling – much like they do for Valentine’s Day dinner. But it’s not that surprising, it’s the same sort of thing that happened in August when the #EatOutToHelpOut campaign was launched. Back then we had a few guests who acted like they had never eaten before. I have no idea how to behave in a restaurant. Really weird.
JL: “The dream is to have enough people coming to the door [at ASAP] and not have a delivery. Pizza is just better fresh.
MF: “We are not yet live on Resy, but emails and commercials are pouring in…”
DM: “For the next two weeks, bookings are closer to what we expected for Christmas – and that’s with significantly reduced capacity. We just hope the worst of times are behind us! ”
Talk a bit about the preparations for this reopening – and everything you’ve been doing specifically for next week.
ME: “We have made a lot of preparations for our reopening because everyone is a little rusty since we have not been doing business as a restaurant for four months now. Such simple things like going through the new menu, sanitation procedures, tracking and traceability, how to communicate and remind customers to wear masks when they are not seated at their table, etc. frequent staff testing. We rearranged the tables on the terrace and received a few new heaters, so now all of our tables on the terrace are heated and covered.
KS: “We only use our outdoor tables so we make sure they are kept away safely, we have a host to sit guests on site and a new app ordering system that customers can order from. their tables. “
DM: “Behind the scenes, we’ve done a lot of work to make sure we’re opening as securely as possible – for example, going through twice-weekly testing. And we used the downtime to make cosmetic improvements to restaurants. ”
JL: “It was pretty cool. We have what we call a “pre-open restaurant model,” which we go through thinking about opening a new restaurant. It was a rare opportunity for the new managers to spend a lot of time with me and the COO of [investor] JKS [Restaurants] and we realized a lot of things weren’t written down, we just did stuff, which is actually bad business practice.
JD: “Koya Soho will remain closed, but the city [Bloomberg Arcade site] will open with 48 covers on the outside. There are wind barriers, heaters, and it’s completely covered so it’s as civilized as you can get for alfresco dining. ”
How does the staff feel about returning (some of whom probably haven’t worked there since before Christmas)?
ME: “We expect customers to want to feel like the good old days are here, before Corona, and this is obviously a concern for our staff as unfortunately the struggle is not over yet. The staff will have to watch some of our customers reminding them of this and it’s an anxiety that I’m sure restaurants have everywhere. This is not what the front of the house is hired for. ”
DM: “The majority of our team have continued to work over the past three months – in our store, preparing our meal kits, or in Arrosto. So in some ways the last few months haven’t looked all that different and I hope that will make the transition to the service a bit easier.
“Having said that, I think the pace of all of our lives has changed recently and will definitely need some adjustment. We understand that for some team members the transition may be more difficult and we will do everything possible to support them.
There appears to be a lot more public confidence than last July due to the vaccine rollout. Are you worried that this could lead to customer complacency with the health and safety protocols you have in place? With that, what do you plan to do to mitigate the risk of transmission? And how do you think this will impact the staff and customer experience?
KS: “I think it’s possible, but I think a lot of people are still aware of the risks of the pandemic even though there is a vaccine. We keep the tables socially distant, erasable menus, everyone who visits the site will sign up for tracking and tracing and there are hand hygiene stations throughout the site and at the tables. Luckily, a lot of the protocols we’ve put in place since last summer and are working well with clients!
ME: “There’s not much we can do and I’m confident we’ve done those things. As I have already mentioned, joining the government initiative to test, retrain staff and above all ensure that we maintain the team spirit and the fluidity of communication that have kept us alive over the past 12 months. ”