Table talk

8 May, 2020

We miss restaurants so much. The talk on our daily calls is of neighbourhood favourites that are now delivering, attempts to recreate menus at home with varying degrees of success, and just a real desire to sit down, open a menu and have someone else cook something for us.  

Yet it’s clear the restaurant sector’s early hopes for a swift return to normal were hopelessly optimistic as plans start to emerge from governments around the world that point to a slow, phased re-opening of the economy, a new normal in which restrictions remain and where an ongoing cycle of increased and then reduced confinement is likely until a vaccine is found. 

For the restaurant sector this presents multiple challenges: repeated cycles of opening and closing, attracting back diners, and restrictions on capacity and staffing to address social distancing. Restaurants say that while addressing the first two of these challenges is possible, the expected operating procedures could present an insurmountable hurdle. Research from the Sustainable Restaurant Association suggests 75% believe they won’t survive if required to implement social distancing measures, and almost 20% say that it is structurally impossible – there is simply insufficient space in kitchens.   

Details of how governments believe this could work remain vague at the moment. Hope remains forthcoming guidance will reflect the fact that a rigid insistence on social distancing in hospitality could spell disaster for much of the industry, with widespread closures and the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs.   

Alternatives that could present a way forward include screening and testing diners and staff, rigorous cleaning, new equipment and procedures (how do you feel about being served by a masked waiter?) and even excluding certain at-risk groups. None of this sounds much fun and would mean dining out in the near future is a very different experience to what we miss. But here, as elsewhere, we will need to decide what we compromise on and what we cannot if we want to support the restaurants we have loved. And in the meantime, consider other ways to support your favourite restaurant – buy their cookbook, order a delivery, buy a gift voucher, or investigate home delivery. All of which may go some way to ensuring they are still there when they are able to reopen their doors. 

By Claire Jost

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