Jun 3, 2020

London Restaurants Call For Guidelines Advice on When & How to Reopen

London restaurants are calling for more helpful and specific government guidance on when the green light may be given to reopen after a recent hint from Prime Minister Boris Johnson that they may be allowed to do so after 4th July.

Consultation Between Government & The London Restaurant Industry

It is being suggested within the London restaurant industry that consultant boards comprised of industry members should be established to liaise with government regarding specific industry concerns. Many restaurateurs and restaurant groups are concerned that social distancing in the UK hospitality sector is being grouped together as a ‘one size fits all’ solution when the reality is that restrictions differ across the industry with distancing in restaurants and pubs not being the same. Other concerns being voiced include the likelihood that the post-Covid and post Brexit worlds will coincide with probable increases in prices for restaurant food ingredients and wine supplies, alongside restrictions on restaurant staff from the EU from which the industry has hitherto been very dependent.

Social Distancing Within Restaurants

With WHO guidelines suggesting that one metre social distancing between seated guests in restaurants may be a safe option and government guidelines continuing to suggest two metre distancing, an increasing number of London restaurants are expressing concern that unless the lower one metre distancing rule is adopted many restaurants will struggle to reopen as a viable concern. Many restaurants operate banquette seating plans which will be difficult to operate within the current distancing rules and until they receive updated government guidance they say that it will be difficult to plan how to reopen.

Government Support For Rent Holidays

The need for rent holidays for restaurants continues to be a huge issue and point of discussion amongst London restaurants with most restaurants adamant that without a rent holiday during the period when social distancing restrictions are applicable they will be unable to operate at a profit. Rent accounts for a huge proportion of a London restaurant’s turnover and this issue is compounded in some circumstances where restaurant landlords are themselves over-leveraged, precluding them from reducing or suspending rents at all, resulting in restaurants with such landlords being forced to either pay full rent at reduced turnover or be forced to close.

Reopening Viability Determined By Restaurant Size & Ability To Provide Outdoor Dining

How the size of a restaurant determines its break-even capacity will be dependent on the distancing restrictions that will be in place and the size of the restaurant. Smaller restaurants will be less likely to be able to reopen profitably and will be in need of additional state support until it is safe as well as profitable for them to resume trading. Larger restaurants and those with outdoor dining spaces will find it easier to reopen sooner. Alfresco dining is likely to be key to a lot of London restaurants’ success in reopening and discussions are being had within the industry about applying pressure on government and local councils to allow temporary pedestrianization of roads and squares to enable increased outside dining.

How Social Distancing Measures May Be Implemented

Social distancing will of course also apply to kitchen and service staff with reduced kitchen staff likely to result in reduced menu choices. Hygiene rules may necessitate staff wearing masks which could be off-putting to customers. Other hygiene considerations being considered include anti-viral hygiene stations, blackboard menus, disposable menus & wine lists and pre-ordering of food and wine online via Apps. Perspex dividers between tables and at payment tills are also likely to become the norm alongside supermarket-style one-way aisles. London restaurants are also considering employing extra staff to police staff and customer traffic flow on the restaurant floor as well as toilets to ensure social distancing is observed at all times, combined with having thermal monitors to spot staff and customers with high temperatures.

The Need To Engender Customer Trust

Trust will be the operative word in the post-COVID-19 restaurant world – trust between staff and guests to ensure that restaurants are seen as safe environments in which to visit. Restaurants in other countries, especially comparable European countries such as France and Germany, have already been allowed to reopen, albeit it with reduced capacities, and London restaurants are observing how they are dealing with this and taking ideas and inspiration from them.

Relaunching, Not Reopening

It is being said within the London restaurant industry that reopening will be more like relaunching restaurants. Many restaurants which had previously not entertained the concept of offering delivery and takeaway have found themselves since the lockdown doing so simply to survive and a significant number may continue to do so until any initial customer wariness of restaurant safety has been allayed. Other restaurants which had thus far not operated a delivery service are suggesting that this will from now on be part of their modus operandi to protect themselves in the event of a pandemic recurrence.

The Importance Of Technology

Technology is likely to be at the forefront of London restaurants reopening. Pre-order Apps will massively reduce interaction with service staff as will taking orders to send direct to the kitchen via waiting staff tablets and contactless payment.

Increased Hygiene Considerations

Guests will want to be assured of hygiene and safety at all times. Restaurants will be forced to be seen to be going the extra mile to ensure the safeness of their guests and those which do will benefit as word spreads that they are a safe environment to visit. Customer safety will be at the forefront of restaurant service as many customers may be initially alarmed at the sight of being served at table from a two metre distance with waiting staff and sommeliers wearing face masks. Hygiene will obviously be the key consideration and larger restaurant groups & hotels may well find it easier to know measures needed to navigate government restrictions by having additional knowledge and cashflow to facilitate doing so.

Private Dining Rooms Providing A Safer Environment For Group Dining Guests

Private dining rooms at London restaurants are generally sealed off from the main restaurant area and provide flexibility with regard to capacity with, for example, a thirty seat capacity private dining room being able to accommodate 15 guests without the table and room appearing to be too large. This would seem to make them perfectly suitable for events during the time of COVID-19 restrictions such as corporate team dinners where the guests are used to working together while observing social distancing and possibly feel safer in retaining their essentially sealed environment in a similar environment within a restaurant.

The Enduring Resilience Of The London Restaurant Industry

The London restaurant industry is known for its resilience & durability and has endured  & bounced back from many recessions. Restaurants are by their very nature a people focused social business and will – provided Government assistance and guidelines are given – find a creative solution to the conundrum of being closer to their guests whilst having to be physically further away from them. People will undoubtedly wish to return to eat out in London restaurants and will be tolerant & supportive of restaurants once they reopen, knowing the difficulties that doing so presents. Restaurants build positive social experience memories in people’s minds and how they adapt and deal with the challenges and obstacles that the post-Coronavirus world places will be watched and appreciated by their customers.