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5 Things You Need to Know About London’s Restaurants, Cafes, and Pubs in a Post-Lockdown World

The anticipation of when hungry Londoners will be able to enjoy a restaurant meal again has finally arrived.

Now that London’s restaurants are back in action, diners are eager to catch up with friends and family safely over a meal and pint, soak up the city’s sunshine, and enjoy the variety of London’s eating options. But with safety a priority, where will they choose first?

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Where Will We Go?

The response to this question is now largely being dictated by the Government’s new “Eat out to help out” initiative, created to encourage customers to return to the city’s cafes, restaurants, and pubs. Running throughout August, diners will be given vouchers to restaurants offering households 50% discount of up to £10 ($11.78) on meals and non-alcoholic beverages. As summer temperatures continue to soar, many will be prioritizing their favorite restaurants with outdoor seating and accessible transport routes.

But not every London restaurant will be on the list. Many venues have weighed their risks and decided to put their reopening on hold due to decreased footfall in their district or challenges running under strict social-distancing rules, if they choose to reopen at all.

From fine dining venues to traditional cafes, those that have reopened their doors will look to operate very differently to how they did in pre-COVID times.

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What Will Restaurants, Cafes, and Pubs Look Like in the New Normal?

Crucially, the hospitality industry has been requested to consider the effects of coronavirus on all fronts, beginning with customer’s transportation to the venues. Where possible, businesses have been asked to create additional parking spaces and additional bike racks in an attempt to minimize those traveling via public transport.

Having selected their venue of choice, diners will be asked to sanitize their hands before entering any establishment, with many asking guests to wear masks and to provide their contact details to aid track and trace should new cases emerge. Customers must remain within one-and-a-half meters (five feet) from each other and each table must sit a maximum of six people. Cutlery will be brought out between courses, digital menus will be offered, and in many places, socially-distanced barriers will separate customers from one another.

These alterations—coupled with public nervousness—spell radical changes for the hospitality industry.

Restaurant Casa do Frango has reopened both of its venues in London Bridge and Shoreditch. Marketing Manager Lucy Simmonds says that both venues will now be utilizing QR codes, so guests can access their menus online. They have also adjusted their restaurants’ layout to secure the 1m+ rule is fully adhered to. To ensure their staff’s safety, they have decreased the number of team members on each shift to allow for physical distancing. Staff will also wear PPE at all times when they’re on-site, as well as having to undergo a wellness check upon arrival to work. They also joined a number of restaurants in delivering over 1 million meals to NHS workers during lockdown.

It’s not just Casa do Frango switching up the way service operates in the new normal—everywhere will be transforming.

Westminster City Council has recently approved plans for areas of Soho to be pedestrianized, allowing businesses to expand their space by spreading their dining area outdoors. Restaurant J Sheekey, an iconic seafood restaurant in Covent Garden, already has the benefit of an outdoor terrace that allows customers to feel more at ease in the open air. The Lyric pub in Soho hopes that introducing additional tables and chairs outside will generate more footfall for the city’s sunnier days.

For London’s pubs, people will have to remain seated at all times. Ordering and socializing at the bar is a thing of the past. There is also a queuing system in place and guests will have to book a table for drinks in advance. They’ll have their temperature checked and enter their contact details as they enter the premises.

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Have London’s Eateries Changed for Good?

In order to survive during the pandemic, many restaurants are adapting and expanding their trade beyond simply offering a physical dining space. During lockdown, many pivoted to delivery services and to marketing their produce online, with the aim to continue these services moving forward. Co-founder of Honey & Co Itamar Srulovich has been successfully providing ready meals for serving at home to those in isolation. Some are even selling personalized anti-coronavirus merchandise, like the Nest Rooftop Bar and Restaurant who has begun selling Liberty print designer face masks to guests in their backyard for £12 ($14.13).

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Will Customers Return?

Perhaps the biggest changes to London’s restaurant scene will be less to do with the anti-coronavirus measures in place and more to do with how the public interacts with the city’s eateries in the future.

All the venues that Fodor’s spoke with are rooting for their returning customers to continue to support them during this difficult time. “We have a large group of gents called The Soho’s Working Men’s Club who are regular loyal customers to all the small independent businesses in Soho…they have definitely kept the spirit of Soho alive,” says Ellie Grainger, General Manager of traditional Victorian pub, Lyric Soho.

While Soho’s spirit might not be broken, businesses in the city center have taken the greatest beating. “Our biggest worry is how long it will take to build up everything again, as we have no tourists, theater-goers, or office staff around, everything is currently very quiet. We’re hoping that the return of many office workers this month will improve the situation, ” adds Grainger.

The risk of a second wave is also a major threat. “Since it’s just been reported that people have to quarantine again coming from Spain, this could happen to more countries yet again. We’re also extremely worried in case a second wave comes forcing us back into lockdown,” Grainger admits.

In a world where our ability to socialize freely will be restricted for months if not years, the next big question is: Will “Coronaphibia” keep customers away? Nick Gibson, owner of the Drapers Arms pub in Islington, North London, fears this might be the case. He asks, “Will the more skeptical diners find the confidence to return? How will it be once the novelty of eating and drinking out wears off? There’s lots of uncertainty!”

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So, What's the Future for London’s Hospitality Sector?

Restaurants, cafes, and pubs are confident that the hospitality sector will bounce back—even in a very different format.

While operating under the new circumstances will be a challenge, many businesses believe that their winning formula will ensure that there is still a demand for dining out. The owner of the famous Regency Cafe in Westminster, Marcos Schiavetta says, “The old normal couldn’t come soon enough!” But he’s optimistic: “The Cafe has been one of the most famous venues for breakfast in London since 1946. With our clients’ health and safety our first priority, we believe that our consistency and customer service will entice guests for years to come, even under such unusual circumstances.”

The next few weeks and months are crucial to the survival of the hospitality industry as we know and love it. London’s strong sense of community spirit will ensure that the hospitality sector will survive this extraordinary year. Now is the time to once again revisit, enjoy, and explore London’s vibrant and diverse dining culture.