Belfast hotel companies say they are very excited to be able to welcome people inside for the first time this year as they seek to recover from being hit very hard during the pandemic.
Preparing throughout the week for the reopening, they say they are eager to see their customers again and bring some atmosphere back to their premises.
However, while this will be the first time that people will be able to sit in a restaurant or cafe and enjoy a meal, it will also be the first time that staff will come back to work closely with the public and they ask customers “be patient” as they get back on track.
Michael O’Connor, owner and chef of The Barking Dog, Malone Road, said he was very happy to welcome people back to the restaurant and that his staff had been working tirelessly since Wednesday to get everything ready.
He said: “It’s like Christmas again, the staff have come since Wednesday to clean and paint the place and the chefs have been working away and are in fact today (Sunday) to prepare all the fresh things for. tomorrow at 12 o’clock.
“During the pandemic it was horrible, you just have to keep the money in the bank account to pay for the leave and get it back. I think six months from now there will be no profit from the restaurant because we will only be paying off bills for things we owe.
“But it’s good to be back, and we’re just thankful to be back doing what we do best.
“I would like to ask if customers could please be patient with the staff, who haven’t been in their area of work for a long time and can be a bit slow to start. We can’t wait to serve people their cocktails but please be patient we’ve worked hard to make sure we’re up to the task and once we get there we’ll be booming again. ”
Orla Smyth, owner of Kaffe-O, which has five cafes in Belfast, including one that opened in the Cregagh area during the pandemic and has no customers inside yet.
She said: “To be honest we’re really excited and looking forward to it, it’s like it’s been a very long time since we’ve had this buzz about coffee and people are coming back. For one of our stores, this will be the first time we have had customers.
“We have had the chance to adapt our way of operating and have a business model that works, so we are lucky to be able to open up strongly, but it will be very pleasant to welcome our regulars instead of passing them off.
“What a lot of people don’t see is the amount of work it takes to prepare for a store to reopen when it’s been practically closed for a year and a half, so this has been a manic week.
“I would just like to ask the general public, who have been great on the take out, to understand not only us, but all businesses, when they first walk in.
“It’s also a bit new for the staff who are getting used to the new and improved social distancing and hygiene regimes and we would just like customers to play their part as well so that everything goes well for everyone. “
Colin Neill of Hospitality Ulster said the reopening was a “huge step” for an area that was “on its knees” during the pandemic.
He said: “This is a big step forward for the industry which is now practically on its knees with traditional pubs closed for more or less 14 months.
“It’s a huge step forward, but businesses are still under pretty severe restrictions, so we’re hoping the majority will be able to reach some sort of sustainable trading level, but until all the regulations are in. not gone, it will be some time before they are able to be profitable again with the enormous debts they have incurred. ”
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