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UK-wide bars and restaurants gear up to unveil new look on-trade this weekend

Published:  03 July, 2020

Bars, restaurants and pubs are expected to re-open in droves this weekend, with a complete overhaul of safety procedures set to establish a new normal for the British on-trade.

Online bookings and payments, one way systems, cashless operations and socially distanced tables are some of the new normal procedures that will be unveiled, with the likes of the Unruly Pig in Suffolk using plexiglass ‘snugs’ to help create a sense of occasion and atmosphere while ensuring guest safety.

Many contacted by Harpers said the lack of information from government around safety procedures has been a struggle, perhaps leading to hesitation in consumers looking to return to their favourite haunts.

According to a recent surgery from health and safety company Protecting, only one in five are looking to break lockdown with a glass of wine or a pint, citing concerns around safety as the cause.

In contrast, many operators have reported a surge in interest from consumers, as in the case of Arc Inspirations, which is opening all 17 of its premium bar brands across the North of England this 4 July weekend on the back of “thousands of enquiries from guests”.

Family-owned brewer Hall & Woodhouse (H&W) will also begin a phased re-opening of its managed pubs from 7 July, after polling the opinions of more than 10,000 of its regular guests.

Many of the UK’s best loved restaurants and bars are now following suit, having managed to put in place incredibly comprehensive and creative social distancing procedures in place, despite a perceived lack of clear advice from government.

These are venues such as Michelin-starred French restaurant L’Ortolan, which is now finalising an internal re-design of the restaurant’s layout in order to avoid having to install plexiglass dividers.

This would “crush the atmosphere of an environment like ours”, said general manager Marco Nardi, who is expecting “a crowded first three months for restaurants, bar and hotels” thanks to the lockdown-induced cabin-fever of the past few months.

“Depending on the size of the business, the first struggle will be logistics, and for some businesses this will mean redesigning entirely their concept and starting fresh in a new form. The second struggle will be staff, because no one really knows how good or bad business is going to be moving forward and so every business is extra cautious about how many staff they employ. The third problem will be how to price yourself in order to please your customers and be profitable at the same time,” Nardi told Harpers.

Then there are venues such as the aforementioned upscale pub, Unruly Pig, which expect to see “several hundred” covers this weekend thanks to an abundance of outdoor space. While creating cosy “snugs” indoors, the independent pub has even managed to bag a free loan on a marquee thanks to the goodwill of one of its regular customers.

“The main challenge will be offering a speedy service with reduced staff," said owner Brendan Padfield. "Getting the 20-35 year old bracket to respect social distancing post-Cummings has been difficult. Many of my young team members have suggested ‘it is now a free for all. Do what you want, Cummings did’." 

“I have put them right. Breach of the rules is now a major disciplinary issue.”

Technology will also play a major and accelerated role in restaurants and bars post-Covid.

The Unruly Pig, among many others (including 67 Pall Mall, which is opening at “00:01 tonight/Saturday morning” and is as fully booked as it can be), are using QR systems which allows customers to view the drinks list, order and pay the bill all from their smartphones.

As ordering moves away from the bar and to the table, outlets have been getting creative with their use of technology to “invigorate the cocktail bar experience”.

One such bar is Newcastle's Mother Mercy, which is reopening tomorrow with its new Twist of Fate cocktail-generating machine. Each guest gets two spins on the machine, which randomly selects the names of modern classic cocktails while mixing in prizes such bar tabs, vouchers and bespoke merchandise. 

Others, like Bethnal Green’s Coupette, also opening this weekend, is staying away from touchscreen tech.

“Our venue is not suitable for an online type of service and we strongly believe that we can offer a better service this way,” says bar manager, Andrei Marcu.

Instead, they are relying on strict approaches to staff protocol and hand sanitising, with a maximum of 30 capacity at a time.

For more on the very recently released 'test and trace' guidance from the government, click here