Published 21 May 2021
A week of indoor dining has elapsed and with each day has come the reverie and joy so missed by those well versed in eating out, and also by those for whom doing so is a less frequent occasion but still an important part of life.
Busy dining rooms with busy chefs and waiters makes for a much better experience during the so-called British springtime. Weeks of alfresco lunches were welcome but a struggle – the weather has not been kind to an industry bearing the heavy burden of rent debt and loan repayments.
There is also a staff shortage with which to contend. Brexit has joined forces with the pandemic to see to that. Skilled workers went home during lockdown and who can blame them? The pandemic and politics have ensured the thousands of EU nationals who would have cooked and served have stayed away this year.
But all is not lost. Footfall and sales are higher this month than they were during May in 2019, according to industry figures seen by CODE. Things are looking up and there’s an air of positivity about the place. Here, we hear from operators across the industry about the first week of indoor dining. Welcome back… and long may it continue.
“As a new London opening and after such a long time without customers in our restaurants, we’ve greedily welcomed every one back with open arms (socially distanced of course!). Most of the difficulties have been caused by so many restaurants opening/reopening at the same time so we are all competing for the same small pool of available staff and suppliers, meaning delays to securing staff and stocking our restaurants. But, having opened, closed, reopened so many times in 2020, we are very positive about 2021 and are so looking forward to serving new regulars in Fitzrovia.”
“It’s with great relief that we are finally back open – like being able to walk again. We have to learn how to get back to running soon. We have taken on debt to get here and it will take 12-18 months to see clearly. Our customers have been so patient and supportive. It is a joy to have them back sitting at the counter eating noodles. And the staff seem to be delighted to be back too. I sat outside Koya Soho yesterday and felt lucky that I have such a lovely little restaurant and that we are back open.”
“We’ve been overwhelmed by the support from our regulars and neighbours this reopening week, and have witnessed some beautiful reunions of friends and families.”
“Our busy first service on Wednesday [19 May] went like clockwork, although to be fair we have been preparing for it for three months! We’re pretty much fully booked at dinner for the next two months and at lunchtime for the next three weeks or so – I think we can look forward to a very good summer.”
“After increasing the external areas substantially and now having all the internal areas as well, we’ve been a little stretched keeping our service standards as we like across such a large extended space at both sites – although fortunately, the bad weather has given us a little help in that respect. Recruitment in the industry has been very challenging, due to Covid people going back to Europe post Brexit, but fortunately we haven’t had a great deal to do in that area. For us, it’s mainly case of continuing to look after the excellent team that we have.
Overall, since opening on 17 May, it hasn’t been the same massive influx of guests as we saw on 12 April when we opened our terraces, when we were incredibly busy and it exceed all expectations. This is a small jump compared to that, but of course we’re very happy to be open inside again and welcome our customers back indoors.”
“Opening COYA on 17 May to our regulars and new clients was as exciting as when I opened COYA back in 2012, though not as nervous as I was then. It has been a long wait, which at times has been disheartening / frustrating / annoying, as the lockdown has gone for longer than anyone had expected.
When all our full team returned back last week, I felt that positive energy in the restaurant, which I had missed so much. I had not seen some of the team members for over five months so it was special to catch up with everyone. To listen to their stories and what they had been up to during lockdown was heart-warming and fun.
We had a refresher course with all the team members as to knowledge of food and drinks. We had a staff one to one training for four days ensuring our clients get the best possible service.
We have been open for takeaway, so the kitchen has been running. Of course, the pace has not been as furious though the first week back the team have done an exceptional job. I suppose when we all love what we do – cooking and serving becomes a second nature to us all. I am proud today of how the team adapted.”
“The team was thrilled finally to welcome our guests back to the restaurant, especially as we did not have a chance to do it earlier due to the absence of an outdoor area. The main challenges for us (and we believe for the rest of the hospitality) are the lack of staff across all positions and increased costs of products. The problems are real, but we are not losing the hope that it will change soon. It was a very genuine welcome back from us and you could feel the same from the guests. A love affair that hopefully will last longer this time.”