Why foodies must support their local restaurant as their doors reopen
PUBLISHED: 10:58 02 July 2020 | UPDATED: 10:58 02 July 2020
They’ve kept us going over the last few months and now, Andy Newman says, its time to repay our thanks by getting out and supporting Norfolk’s restaurants
For foodies throughout the county, this weekend marks a major step in the return to normality, with restaurants able once again to open on Saturday, for the first time since lockdown.
It’s true that many of our eateries have been doing sterling work providing takeaway meals, either on an occasional basis, or day-in, day-out. So we have been able to enjoy the fruits of many of our chefs’ labours, at least to a certain extent.
But the fact is that eating a takeaway at home is a million miles away from the excitement of going to a restaurant. For me, it’s one of the most enjoyable experiences available, from the anticipation of perusing the menu, the sipping of the first aperitif, and the knowledge that not only you don’t have to cook the meal, but you won’t be bringing it to the table or washing up afterwards either
Of course restaurants are about food, but more than anything they are about people. I cannot think of a better way of spending an evening than sitting around the dinner table with friends. And in a restaurant, no-one has to be the host, you are all guests. It is one of the aspects of life I have missed most since lockdown was first imposed.
So you might imagine that after three months’ restaurant cold turkey – and three months with no income for many restaurant businesses – that eateries will be throwing open their doors on Saturday, and foodies like me will be rushing out to reserve our tables.
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There is some evidence of that: chef Galton Blackiston reported receiving 2,000 email bookings within hours of announcing that he would be reopening Morston Hall. But by no means all restaurants are planning to open their doors, and even if they did, it will take a long while before customers feel confident enough to venture out.
Mainly this is because we have manifestly failed as a nation to get to grips with the virus. While other European nations are reporting handfuls of new cases, we are still seeing thousands of new infections every week. This means that, however much you might want to go out to eat, big questions remain about how safe it is to do so.
It also means that the restaurant experience is not going to be the relaxed occasion it should be. Perspex screens, serving staff wearing PPE, constant warnings about getting too close and washing your hands: none of this is going to create the kind of atmosphere anyone looks for when they dine out.
You have to feel sorry for restaurant owners. Faced with paying rents and other overheads, and with the prospect of having to chip in towards furloughed workers’ wages from next month, they can’t win either way. If they remain shut they have no income; if they open, they do so in circumstances in which it will be practically impossible not to lose money.
Margins are hardly big in the restaurant business anyway. Social distancing will reduce the number of tables they can serve, whilst complying with the guidelines means lots of extra cost. And then if a customer subsequently tests positive, they must close for two weeks – while still paying all the staff they have brought back off furlough.
Without specific help targeted at the hospitality sector, we will sadly lose many of our restaurants, and it will be the smaller, independent ones which will be hardest hit. Not only are these the establishments that true foodies will least want to lose, but they are also a big part of the what draws tourists to Norfolk, on whose spend thousands of jobs rely.
Good luck to every restaurant which is opening its doors on Saturday, and if you do feel safe enough to venture out, please try and support the independents who need your custom more than the deep-pocketed corporate chains. In the end it will be worth enduring the surreal atmosphere, in order to ensure that when this is all over and everyone can again go out to eat, that there is somewhere for them to go.
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