On the eve of entering our seventh week of lock-down, I found myself in an empty Winchester high street on Sunday afternoon. The site of queues outside stores have become increasingly familiar and everyone seems to be adapting to the new, but hopefully temporary, way of life. I then found myself fixated on the Primark store, usually full with teenagers at the weekend, sitting with its lights off and a paper sign in the window. The enormity of the situation that we find ourselves in hit me once again.
I very much enjoy socialising at weekends, often visiting friends around the country so the past six weeks of weekends in my apartment have come as a huge shock. As I strolled past the bars and restaurants that I had frequented (somewhat controversially) on the last evening pubs were open back in March, I found myself wondering when I would next be able to visit. And what would a typical restaurant / bar visit look like when I can?
From the COVID-19 tracker that we are currently running (email [email protected] for further details), it is clear that I’m not alone in missing going out to eat and drink: 88% are! But how many of these people are going to be ready and willing to get straight back into our pubs, bars and restaurants as soon as we are allowed? 84% of people a keen to get back out and in amongst things, but 40% say they will not be comfortable in visiting coffee shops, pubs, restaurants and fast food outlets even once restrictions are lifted. Unsurprisingly, this is significantly lower amongst younger people like me who are not as vulnerable to the virus.
So what do people expect a night out to look like once we’re allowed out again? Personally, I think the fewer changes the better, but realistically our restaurants and pubs are not going to be the same places as we left behind back in March. Around two-thirds of people expect venues to limit their capacity whilst a similar number expect additional spacing between tables, etc.
Friends in the casual dining industry say they are currently inundated with app developers offering solutions to their sites. Ideas include enabling customers to pick their table in advance and viewing how busy the venue is. Apps would also mean customers would not need to use a physical menu or pay via cash / card. All would be done through the app. Will this be the end of the numerous menus on your table when you sit down? Could this be the nail in the coffin of cash? If so, how will the late night busker cope (chip & pin perhaps)? In the Netherlands, restaurants have trialled using small greenhouses to aid social distancing; however this isn’t exactly possible on the crowded high streets of the UK. One restaurant in Italy is trialling plexi-glass screens to allow people to dine together.
I’m sure the casual dining industry along with those who own and run bars and pubs around the country will do everything they can to entice us back to their sites and keep us safe. However, when we go out, we will come into contact with others and will need to become comfortable with this again. Personally, I’m more than happy with this, but there are bound to be occurrences of people going out post-lockdown and being uncomfortable with the measures put in place by restaurants, bars & pubs. It’s going to be a learning curve for all businesses as they slowly re-open, but I plan to be there as soon as we’re permitted, face mask on or otherwise, and will appreciate the simple pleasure of an evening out once again!