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The new rules of dining out.

The new rules of dining out.

ParentFolk’s Jade Wright asks restauranteurs the new dos and don’ts for post-lockdown restaurant dining, from temperature checks and ordering via apps to social distancing and entertaining little ones at the table.

Restaurants may have cautiously rolled up their shutters, but it’s far from business as usual. Once upon a time, restaurant etiquette was all about making sure you ate your fish course with the right fork and didn’t put salt on your food before tasting it. Now, the stakes are much higher. How diners and staff behave in a restaurant in the Covid-19 era could be the difference between life and death – both for the business, and for the individuals who serve you. 

Matt Farrell, co-founder of Liverpool-based Graffiti Spirits Group

 Matt Farrell, co-founder of Liverpool-based Graffiti Spirits Group, says the industry has had to adapt to make sure that the dining experience can be both safe and still enjoyable: “It’s a difficult time for everyone at the moment, so the hospitality industry has had to adapt to offer different styles of service for guests.”

As a dad of three-year-old twin girls, Matt has been working hard on how to make his sites – including Duke Street Food and Drink Market, Bold Street Coffee and Maluco Pizzeria – as welcoming as possible for families, while still keeping everyone safe

“Throughout lockdown, technology has been a saviour for many and again it can be embraced to help ease service and bring the public back out as restrictions continue to lift,” he says.

But where does that leave ‘service with a smile’?

“Table ordering has become the norm in many venues,” he explains. “Although it may lack a certain personality, it also makes it incredibly easy for the consumer to order and in these times will make them feel safer. 

“The key is finding the balance to make the experience as close to ‘normal’ as possible, after all people come out to forget their worries, not add to them, and that’s why we have to adapt.”

At Duke Street Market, guests can scan their QR code on the table and send their order through. 

“This has worked fantastically in the market so far and I’m sure it will be a preferred approach from larger venues,” he says.

Bold Street Coffee is offering outdoor seating and a continued takeaway service

For the smaller sites, such as Bold Street Coffee and Maluco, Graffiti Spirits is offering outdoor seating and a continued takeaway service. 

“We’re introducing a ‘Bold Street Coffee promise’ for guests using the takeaway service. If you don’t receive your order within a certain time, it’ll be on us. And at Maluco we’ve created a new deli that includes grab and go items and fresh pizzas that can be cooked at home.

“We’re allowing the guests to decide how they’d like to dine. If it’s indoors as normal we have the measures in place, and if it’s outdoors, we’re offering the same quality food to enjoy at home.

“I personally prefer the personal approach from restaurants but society is split down the middle with people having differing opinions. No one should be criticised for their viewpoint, so we must think about everyone in these circumstances. I think in the future, both approaches can work side by side when it is safe to do so.”

For many parents, there will be understandable concerns about dining out with children for the first time in months, but as dad of two and co-founder of The Hive in Manchester Jamie Hoare explains, in many ways the new rules make mealtimes simpler for families.

The Hive, Manchester, has found social distancing gives families more space

“The social distancing has enabled us to have plenty of space between tables, ensuring plenty of room for highchairs and prams, and that extra little bit of space for the kids that like to wriggle,” he says. “We aim to make eating out with the kids as stress free as possible – we want all families to have fun here and feel relaxed.”

Plenty of space for families at The Hive

Some things haven’t changed, of course, but new rules mean slight tweaks, such as the requirement for single use items. 

“We provide a colouring sheet and a pack of single use crayons for each child, with a disposable menu,” says Jamie.

There are also some additional precautions at the door of the new restaurant, part of the Stretford Foodhall, in the bustling new mall.

“It’s table service only, and customers are greeted at the door by our friendly host to have their temperatures and contact details for track and trace taken,” he says. “Our one-way system is explained as customers are shown to their table, and one of our staff heads over to take their order swiftly. We have tried to make the whole process as friendly and familiar as possible whilst adhering to the Covid 19 guidelines.”

It has been a steep learning curve for the restaurant, which had only been open for two days when the Covid crisis forced them to close their doors. 

“It’s been an incredibly tough time for everyone across the country, not just the hospitality industry but every part of life,” says Jamie. “We have had to change all of our original plans, and after being open for just a couple of days back in March we are really thrilled to be able to open again. 

“Our first couple of weeks have been fantastic. We have had a very diverse mix of customers who have all been extremely supportive and compliant with our Covid 19 measures.”

For many venues, social distancing has been key to re-opening, with tables now spread more widely, and fewer bookings allowed per session.

Simon Shaw, chef patron of El Gato Negro in Liverpool and Manchester, explains: “We’re fortunate that we’ve been able to introduce social distancing with relative ease.  In particular, in Liverpool, the restaurant’s incredible vast ceilings and large open plan floor create a spacious and airy dining environment, with the terrace providing the perfect space to dine alfresco.

The vast and airy dining space at El Gato Negro.

“The safety of our guests and our team is, as always, of paramount importance to us and we’ve introduced a number of new measures, in line with government guidelines, to ensure we provide a safe and comfortable dining experience for all.

 “It’s been a difficult period for everyone and there’s some hard work to be done, but it’s good to be back. It sounds like a cliché, but we really are a family at El Gato Negro, and it feels great to return to the restaurants with the team.”

How To Be A Good Guest

1.Turn up when you say you will

With restaurants facing their toughest trading conditions in living memory, no-show bookings are a real problem.  Play nice. If you need to cancel, let the restaurant know as early as possible. Also, be on time. Slots are carefully spaced out to avoid too many people arriving and leaving at once, so don’t arrive early or late.

2. Be prepared

Bring your tablets if you think you’ll need them (electronic ones, not prescription, although those are important too). There’s no scope for little ones running around while you wait for food to be served, and staff aren’t there to corral your children back to the table, so bring your own things for them to do. If they want to play games with sound, bring headphones. Also, wipes and hand gel, although most places will supply these. 

3. Make the most of offers – but check the small print

There’s a 50% discount on food and non-alcoholic drinks up to £10 per person when you eat in at restaurants that are registered with the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays in August. But not all venues have signed up for the scheme, so check first. Also, there’s a 15% reduction in VAT for hospitality businesses, but most have had such huge losses, they say they wont be able to pass this on to customers. These are tough times for restaurants and their staff, so don’t be afraid to tip generously if you enjoy your meal – by card, many are still not taking cash.

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