'The sofa to a 100m Olympic sprint' - restaurants gear up for a busy May 17

Andrew Jones, Hannah Springham and consultant chef Joe Walker.

Andrew Jones, Hannah Springham and consultant chef Joe Walker. - Credit: Simon Finlay Photography

Restaurants which have been closed since Christmas are gearing up to be plunged back into the rush as they finally reopen indoors next week. 

From May 17, prime minister Boris Johnson confirmed on Monday night, restaurants and pubs will be able to serve customers inside.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street. - Credit: PA

They will still need to abide by social distancing rules, but will be able to take a few more steps back to normality after a month of only being allowed to serve customers outdoors.

Customers braving the rain to eat outside at the Vine Thai in Norwich.

Since April 12, restaurants have only been able to serve people outdoors, and customers - including these two men at the Vine Thai in Norwich - have had to brave the elements to eat out. - Credit: Vine Thai/Aey Allen

Richard Bainbridge, at Benedicts in Norwich's St Benedicts Street, said the team, who had been reunited since May 1, were "buzzing".

"We are looking at it like we are opening a new restaurant," he said. “We have really tried to bring that energy. The hospitality industry is known for working really hard, but it's going to be like going straight to the Olympics and doing a 100m sprint after being on the sofa.

"It's given us the breather we need after five years and we want to turn it into a positive."

Richard Bainbridge, owner of Benedicts restaurant Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Richard Bainbridge, owner of Benedicts restaurant Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2017

The restaurant, which will open on Wednesday, May 19, looks set to have a busy few weeks - Mr Bainbridge said their Friday and Saturday slots were booked up into September, while most slots for the next month were taken.

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But he said he was keen they paced themselves, and that pre-pandemic full capacity was roughly 70 people, while now it was nearer 40.

"The expectations are high," he said. "People have been sitting at home for a year and now are desperate to come out for a meal.

"We're a little but nervous but we couldn't be more excited."

Alex Brake, at the Bird in Hand in Wreningham, said they were excited to reopen and, after a lot of preparation, were almost ready to do so. He said bookings were strong, and that they were keen to ease themselves back into business, building up trade over the next couple of months.

Alex and Lizzie Brake, brother and sister, owners of the Bird in Hand pub and restaurant. Photo: Ale

Alex and Lizzie Brake, brother and sister, owners of the Bird in Hand pub and restaurant. Photo: Alex Brake - Credit: Alex Brake

But he said while he welcomed the May 17 relaxation, he wouldn't be able to breathe a sigh of relief until social distancing rules were dropped.

"What we yearn for is normality," said. "People being able to come up to a bar and order a drink."

Hannah Springham, of Farmyard in Norwich, which is also on St Benedicts Street, and the Dial House in Reepham, said they were looking "very busy" in the next few weeks, but said they were cautious of easing staff back in.

"We are really, really thrilled to be reopening again," she said. "It feels electric and it's what life is all about, the experiences. The best bit of this year has been the love and understanding for the hospitality industry.

"People in Britain like an underdog, and the underdog has been hospitality."

Taking the positives from pandemic rules

Restrictions brought in during the pandemic hit traders hard, but some of the rules have inspired owners to make more permanent changes.

Ben Handley, of the Duck Inn at Stanhoe in north Norfolk, said restrictions on booking sizes had actually made them reconsider what to do post-pandemic.

Chef patron Ben Handley behind the bar at The Duck Inn in Stanhoe.

Chef patron Ben Handley behind the bar at The Duck Inn in Stanhoe. - Credit: AWPR/Andrew Waddison

He said they had not made final decisions but were debating capping bookings at 12 or 10 to focus on quality, and to ensure it didn't have a knock-on effect on other tables.

"We have a small village pub kitchen, the pass has room for 10 plates and it's much better for us," he said. "It's less stressful and more achievable."

Elsewhere, Mr Bainbridge said having seen an explosion of options for lunches in the city, they would reduce the days they opened for lunches to just Friday and Saturday.

He said it was a chance to give staff a better work life balance.

Decisions inspired by the move to takeaways are also likely to stay - Mr Bainbridge will continue his Dine at Home menu after fully reopening, for example.

Tudoo, which develops takeaway and ordering apps for local businesses, said many of its businesses were planning to continue using apps for ordering in-house in the future.

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