At the height of the pandemic lockdown, the government laid down ground rules to limit spread of the Covid 19 virus. These have contributed toward the successful reduction of infection rates but have not been without tough economic side effects. The hospitality sector has been hit hard and by necessity will lag behind others in the hoped for recovery.

The government’s “Covid-19 recovery strategy” document makes clear that hospitality venues must remain closed until July 4 at the earliest.

This date dovetails with the scaling back of the furlough scheme for employees and means that retailers and restaurant owners have about a month to get ready to reopen. Being ready means that they must “meet the Covid-19 Secure guidelines”. Right now, these have only been published for restaurants serving takeaway food.  Presumably these will be updated when the government is ready to move on to the next phase of relaxation. It is still very much early days and the government appears to be ‘ducking and diving’ a bit as they adapt to changing circumstances. Whatever the guidelines eventually turn out to be, the key areas that will have to be addressed are:

  • Maintaining sufficient social distancing between both customers, and customers and staff
  • Minimising face to face interaction
  • Minimising the risk of infection being passed on via contact points commonly touched by customers or staff

How these considerations are interpreted will profoundly affect the ongoing profitability of restaurants.

Essential retailers have been forced to address these issues head on, and major supermarkets, takeaway food chains and DIY retailers, have developed several effective ways to manage risks. It’s worth taking a look at these to throw a light on the way forward for restauranteurs.

What can be learned from what we already know? And more importantly how can we apply these learnings to restaurants?

To summarise – in restaurants:

  1. Social distancing means managing customer numbers and flow
  2. Children may not always follow guidelines
  3. Exterior space can be used to manage customer flow
  4. Physical screens between people reduce the risk of infection 
  5. Contactless payment is safer than cash
  6. It takes time to sanitise surfaces between sittings
  7. A trained and dedicated host can facilitate staff and customer safety.
  8. Simplified menus can help protect kitchen staff by minimising contact.
  9. Hand sanitisers at key locations will help manage problematic contact points.
  10. Space could be made available for customers to safely wait while tables are cleared and sanitised.
  11. Handover points or trolleys can be used to get food to the table
  12. One way circulation can efficiently manage social distancing.

Many of these considerations have been addressed by fast food retailer McDonald’s in the Netherlands at their trial restaurant in Arnhem. They believe that the measures they have taken will allow them to reopen and cater for 66% of their pre Covid capacity. Not bad – considering several UK firms have claimed that social distancing will reduce seating capacity to just a third of normal levels.

What these points don’t address is that eating out is a leisure activity relying on atmosphere and ambience. Overly surgical Covid 19 measures could cut through all this and destroy a restaurant’s appeal.

In McDonalds, perhaps customers are willing to accept a trade off between convenience and comfort, but the wider sector may need a more subtle touch. Also McDonald’s have sufficient clout to procure materials and labour in a marketplace when demand is high for Covid 19 solutions.

So what the rest of us need is a creative and flexible approach to dealing with these problems.

Design CLD have been working with a number of retailers and suppliers in the hospitality trade to develop a template for solutions that both mitigates the risk of customers catching Covid 19, and addresses the public’s natural fears about visiting shops and restaurants. They also go some way to maintain an attractive ambience. 

Our ideas are based on research into best practice in other countries, and existing precedents already set here by essential retailers. Some of the ideas have anticipated future acceptable relaxations in rules. All of them are intended to deal with practical issues faced by the hospitality sector. What we’ve discovered is that there are no ‘one size fits all’ solutions. Flexibility means tailoring that template to fit individual needs.

If you are wrestling with the practical issues of reopening, then we may be able to help you. What we offer, is a good understanding of the problems, creative solutions and the wherewithal to deliver them. Give us a call, a chat may be all you need to get back to business.

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