Going into lockdown was easy – coming out again is proving more complicated. Everywhere is the same, but it’s also different, and I’ve realised it can feel quite uncomfortable; first of all accepting how much things have changed, and secondly, getting to grips with doing things properly, like finding the new way into a once-familiar shop, and then following all the new signs inside to do simple things like browsing and queuing. It can be disorientating, unsettling, and I’m often feeling on edge about doing the right thing – which is one of the reasons we’ve put off eating out again.
But it’s no secret that businesses have suffered terribly, particularly in the hospitality sector, and so many of them have worked incredibly hard to meet the standards set out for safe opening. A friend of mine – Natalie – went out with her 6-year-old son for her birthday, a short while after the 4 July reopening. She was so pleasantly surprised by how safe and enjoyable it all was that she asked me to share it, so that if anyone else is feeling apprehensive about taking the plunge back into restaurant dining, especially with young children, they can feel reassured about how seriously businesses up and down the land are taking the new safety standards. Here’s her experience of the evening.
“We went to Ye Olde Swan in Woughton on the Green for my birthday, and we booked in advance by telephone. There was a sanitiser station to wash your hands as soon as you walked through the door, and we were then greeted by a member of staff who looked up our booking. She was wearing a visor and gloves. She then explained that there was a new one-way system around the restaurant, and showed us how it worked. She also explained what to do for using the toilet: only one person is in the toilets at a time, and you need to flick a sign outside the door to ‘Engaged’ with your elbow before entering; wash your hands and push the door open to exit; flip the sign with your elbow back to ‘Vacant’, and use the hand sanitiser to finish. It was all explained really clearly so my son could understand as well.
“We were seated at our table and the lovely waitress explained the protocols further. Our table had a sign on it which said it had been cleaned, and was ready to use. The area we were seated in had five tables, with only three in use, spaced at a safe distance apart in a triangle, with the ones in between reserved for Mr and Mrs Social Distancing! We could place our order via the restaurant’s app, or she could take our order there at the table, and she explained that when it came, the food and drinks would be placed at the end of the table for us to distribute between ourselves. She also explained that instead of having our table cleared directly, we should use Mr and Mrs SD’s tables next to us for our empties, for her to pick up.
“The staff went above and beyond to talk to us and make sure that we were happy, and to make it as normal as possible. They made a massive effort with my 6-year-old, asking him about his Rockstar Freddy figure that he had brought with him, and they were even giving him air high fives. It wasn’t busy, and I actually quite liked the fact that there weren’t several tables’ conversations going on in one area – it wasn’t at all loud, like it can be in restaurants. It was certainly nice not to have occupied tables right next to you, and it felt quite spacious.
“Overall, we had a wonderful evening. It felt somewhat normal – of course, a new kind of normal – but it really was a wonderful evening. I was anxious prior to going, like a lot of people are, but I’m so glad we went. It was a lovely experience, and we can’t wait to go for another meal again.”
Emerging from lockdown is beyond strange – all of the familiar places are still there, but it’s just not the same as it was. As humans we’re not always comfortable with changes to the familiar, and it’s not always going to be easy to do behave differently in places we know so well. Everyone is going through it, though, and we’ll all feel able to go out and try things at our own pace – and hopefully, if you’ve been thinking about sampling your favourite restaurant again, Natalie’s experience has helped to make up your mind…