Restaurants in England are permitted from this Saturday, 4 July, to reopen their dining rooms for guests. To mitigate the risk of transmission of the novel coronavirus, the government has published a 43-page document with a series of recommendations for businesses to adopt in order to keep their premises “Covid-secure.”
As some restaurants in London prepare to reopen for the first time in nearly four months, and others sit tight, waiting a little to longer to ready themselves, they await their customers with a sense of uncertainty, left themselves to assess risk, knowing they are opening with a new duty to ensure the safety of staff and guests alike.
Eater has gathered reactions from across social media and in newsletters and spoken to a range of restaurateurs and chefs across the city to better understand feelings towards the guidance and to hear of how they plan to reopen now they are allowed to do so.
Here’s what they’re thinking and doing in the coming days and weeks.
Interviews have been edited for clarity. And this post will updated in the days leading up to and after the official reopening date this Saturday.
Normah Abd Hamid, Normah’s, Bayswater
Opening date: We hope to be able to reopen again in the first week of July as we are refurbishing our place currently.
I have gone through the guidance and I think a lot more help / thought needs to be considered for a small cafe like us, for I believe London tourism very much depends on [small businesses] like us.
First — I think it’s not just enough for the government to publish the guidelines but more so to make the general public understand why we need to follow them and treat it as a new “normal.” We need people to feel confident to come out again.
Second is rent — We are not certain as to how long this new “normal” going to be normal. Government need to look into this matter. It wasn’t enough for the business owner to handle this themselves with the landlord. Everyone is digging deep into their pocket currently. Collapse of one sector will soon effect another sector too.
More engagement/talk among small-business — We need talk about card and bank charges, internet providers charges, delivery charges, EPOS charges and all other fix charges. These things all add up to business expenses.
Concentrating on delivery or take away is one option but we don’t want London to be a ghost city and London must be ready when the world start to open up again. I am very optimistic about opening up again.
Jon Rotheram, The Marksman
Opening date: pub — 4 July; for food — 15 July
It’s been a surreal couple of months to tell you the truth. It’s the uncertainty on so many levels that’s starting to grind us down.
Yes, we’re going to reopen slowly, we’re not going to rush into this just because the government have now come out and said we can reopen. We’ve had no real guidance from the government until last week, so we’re just being precautionary on how the Marksman can reopen safely. The government’s guidelines are very vague and — typical of this government — there’s no real leadership or good advice on how we should take the steps to open up; it’s totally on local councils, who are very stretched as it is.
With all of the precautionary steps and the tracking of guests it will be a very expensive cost on restaurants and the not knowing if you can be shut down the next day is a little daunting for everyone.
I think it’s very much the [responsibility] of landlords, restaurants and guests that have to work it out... I’m totally confident our guests and the hospitality industry will take the right steps.
I do feel that now the government have come out and given the 1 metre ruling it is more viable for the hospitality sector to start operating. If the local authorities could come out and give restaurants, bars and pubs more space for outside seating and drinking that would really help everyone at the moment and I’m sure the guests would feel much more comfortable in this environment. Luckily we’ve got a terrace and very open airy restaurant to help us with that, but we’ve got to work extra hard on keeping the pub feeling very much like a pub with these measures in place but at the same time making sure that the numbers stack up.
I feel that staying local or being local will help us slightly and I feel for the restaurateurs in the West End who rely heavily on tourism and people who work around the West End.
So the good news — and I can’t wait to open the pub doors again — is we will start by serving drinks only in the pub this weekend with reservations in the pub and drinks to takeaway. Guests can pop by and reserve a table once a table becomes free. We will see how this goes and then we will open for food on 15th of July. Like many of our peers are doing, it will be a fantastic value set menu of £35 for three courses which will include many wonderful dishes including the chicken and girolles pie. We will also be serving a proper bar menu in the pub with such things as the buns, hachéd veal steak and also lovely cured fish dishes.
River Cafe, Hammersmith
Opening date: Monday 6 July
To keep everyone safe during COVID-19: We will be asking you to wash or sanitise your hands on arrival, and have your temperature taken. Hand washing and sanitising stations are available at the entrance and throughout the restaurant.
Physical distancing: We are following the 1 Metre Plus guidelines, which all of our team will be respecting.
Masks will be worn.
Contactless payment: Apple Pay and Android Pay available.
We have increased our cleaning staff to ensure we maintain and go beyond our existing levels of hygiene.
Wei Guirong, Master Wei, Bloomsbury
Opening date: Monday 13 July
We still don’t have an exact reopening date, because we still need to do some preparation for dining service, which needs to follow the guide from government. But I am sure that we can reopen in the middle of July, around 13th.
I think we are going to moving some tables away, keep one metre social distancing rules, deep clean the restaurant, also we will follow staff training with guidance from government. We will keep doing takeaway service. The employee number is same as before. Most staff will change to part-time roles. This is best thing I can do at the moment for everyone.
Raef Hodgson, 40 Maltby Street, Bermondsey
Opening date: TBC
We do not have any concrete plans for reopening yet and intend to wait a little while to see how people navigate the guidance etc. or if any clearer guidance is given.
Mitshel Ibrahim, Ombra, Hackney
Opening date: Saturday 4 July
We’ll have two entrances, to control people coming in and out of the restaurant, plus we’ll have a host to manage the flow of arrivals and guide to the restaurant for drinks, food, or fresh food to takeaway.
We’ll take reservations for the outside in the coming weeks, and employ a waiting list to avoid guests having to hang around. Customers who have been ordering for delivery or collection through lockdown will get priority booking.
To start with, there’ll be set menu at weekends and if people aren’t too freaked out, then we’ll extend to the rest of the week. At the weekends we’ll push the set menu; we can’t have a table of four sharing one burrata.
During the day time, the shop/deli will keep running and the focus, offering a reduced menu. The shop has solved the lunch trade money-making issue [which existed pre-pandemic.]
It will switch to restaurant at night time, around 5/6 p.m. We’re losing 10 / 15 spaces inside, but can make up for that outside, if and when the weather is good.
We’re quite looking forward to it: people are excited to return to eating out. For three or four weeks, we’re expecting it will be quite hectic. But this is a chance to make money, maybe even have to open seven days a week, over the summer, in anticipation of a potential second lockdown in autumn. We’ll really try and make the most of it.
In March and April [with the delivery and collections] we were really killing it, but the initial buzz of the lockdown, spending what you’d spend in a restaurant at home, fell away a bit. It’s been about adapting.
Road to recovery for Peg is still very much unknown. P. Franco will wait a month or two but looking to slightly change it up as well. One at a time essentially.
Dining room at Bright: set menu and 50 percent capacity reduction. Bar is a la carte and again about 50 percent. Week one we won’t push outside but week two we’ll probably take over as much of the car park (outside the front of the restaurant) as possible. Staffing is skeleton still.
[Government safety] Requirements seem intentionally vague. [Bright will have] Sanitisers everywhere, have trace and track system being integrated as we speak, have to take every single person’s name and number. Temperature checking staff daily, not masking at this stage; staff can choose — haven’t definitively made a call on that.
In the weeks pre lock down, we were getting toward a place where we were really excited with how the menu was developing at Smoking Goat. A lot more daily changing dishes, fed more directly inline with the output of the U.K. farms. Some dishes which often don’t work as well in restaurants: i.e simple soups of good vegetables, more use of British replacements for Thai herbs (i.e. nettles, stir fried amaranth etc.), some more subtly seasoned Thai recipes like gaeng kae and as a result a really engaged, progressively minded team in the kitchen and on the floor and these attitudes being reflected in our regular guests. All the small things that people don’t write about but, to me, are the sign when a place is really ticking. So to be honest having to close Smoking Goat was probably the most frustrating of the three. However, rather than regress back into a smaller / less challenging menu which may be the safer bet with an eye on cost, we’re hoping to do the opposite and push ahead in the direction we were headed. Plus (fish sauce) chicken wings.
Alongside some pretty significant challenges on the supply chain side of things, the main question for me is wether to try and open in a way that reduces the risk of trading at a loss, but may take away from the magic of the place and engagement of the team. I.e., a smaller or more rigid menu with less hard to use ingredients and less hard to sell dishes. But our instinct to do the opposite and keep the energy and breadth of the cooking we closed with present upon reopening. So I may live to eat my words (again), but my feeling is that our core guests of knowledgable and mindful locals will be in tune with this approach.
Yes capacity will be reduced as a result of spacing the tables and we won’t have guests standing at the bar or drinking areas inline with the guidelines. But I’ve often found that the relationship between total number of covers and efficiency of those covers is inversely proportional (i.e improved kitchen to guest ratio).
We’re obviously following all the guidelines to minimise risk for our guests and our teams (including contact tracing). Along with the rest of the industry we’re working through each element day by day at the moment, but thus far we haven’t met any insurmountable obstacles. Everyone is feeling positive that we can meet the guidelines and in some cases go beyond them whilst keeping what is good and exciting about the place intact.
Having been in some fairly tight spots before over the years, it occurs that when all is said and done the answer to each hurdle has always been to cook better and make the restaurant more fun. It’s starting to feel like that may again be the answer I’m looking for and that’s quite freeing a moment for a restaurateur in 2020.
Daniel Morgenthau and Will Lander, Woodhead Restaurants
Opening date: Quality Chop House, Saturday 4 July
We have taken the following steps, above and beyond the 1 metre gap between tables and all other government guidance, to ensure you can feel as relaxed as possible while dining with us.
1. Air filtration — all our dining rooms have been fitted with brand new IQAir air purifiers equipped with a hospital-grade HyperHEPA filters.
2. Air flow — our front doors in all dining rooms will be open all day allowing for maximum circulation of fresh air. All our dining rooms are additionally fitted with a ‘fresh air’ air conditioning system.
3. Your table will be set, prior to your arrival, by colleagues wearing disposable gloves and your menus will already be on the table ready for you.
4. Staff wellbeing — we take and record the temperatures of all our colleagues before each service.
5. ‘Contact-free dining’ — we are aware that for lots of reasons, each of our guests will have a different view on the level of interaction they would like with our teams during this unique period. For those who want to keep this to an absolute minimum we can offer ‘contact-free dining’ whereby your table will be set with everything you might need for your lunch or dinner and nothing, other than your dishes from the kitchen will be touched by anyone other than you. To find out about options for pre-ordering with contact-free dining please email the restaurant.