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‘Ringing off the hook’ - boom for restaurants in rush for final pre-lockdown meal

PUBLISHED: 08:35 04 November 2020 | UPDATED: 08:50 04 November 2020

People have been wanting to enjoy a final meal out before lockdown begins. Photo: Fizkes/Getty Images/iStockphoto

People have been wanting to enjoy a final meal out before lockdown begins. Photo: Fizkes/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Restaurants have seen a pre-lockdown boom as customers scramble to enjoy a last meal out - but warn they’ll need the support in the coming weeks.

Shoppers around Norwich Market shopping local and staying safe in masks.
Picture by: Sonya DuncanShoppers around Norwich Market shopping local and staying safe in masks. Picture by: Sonya Duncan

As the introduction of the second national lockdown on Thursday looms, people have been keen to make the most of their last few days of freedom - high streets have seen a rush of Christmas shoppers and taxis have been inundated with the demand.

For restaurants and cafés, many of which are now gearing up for a return to takeaways, it’s been a chance to make the most of booming business before a potentially stark November.

Shoppers out in force wearing masks in Norwich city centre on the first day it became mandatory for shoppers to wear face coverings in shops. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYShoppers out in force wearing masks in Norwich city centre on the first day it became mandatory for shoppers to wear face coverings in shops. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

At The Station Smokehouse in Hoveton, owner Tim Ridley said the impact of the lockdown announcement was felt immediately.

“It’s been really interesting,” he said. “On Saturday, we were all huddled around the mobile phone waiting for Boris’ announcement and within 10 minutes the restaurant phone was just ringing off the hook.

Tim Ridley at The Station Smokehouse. Picture: Tim RidleyTim Ridley at The Station Smokehouse. Picture: Tim Ridley

“It was incredible, really surprising. So we have ended up fully booked.

“Any money we can get in the bank will protect us for the next month or so.”

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

He added that they will be returning to takeways from Thursday, though admitted, with cheaper prices but the same costs, they were a difficult balancing act.

Aey Allen, of the Vine Thai in Norwich’s Dove Street, said they were also enjoying a busy week.

Scott and Kelly at Wells Crab House. Picture: Victoria PertusaScott and Kelly at Wells Crab House. Picture: Victoria Pertusa

“We have good support here, my customers are fantastic,” she said. “We are already looking quite busy for lunch and for dinner we are almost fully booked, so we are going to be very busy.”

Chris Carr, who runs Zaks American diners with Ian Hacon, said their introduction of a two for one offer in November had seen most of their tables already booked this week.

Aey Allen, owner of the Vine Thai in Norwich. Photo: Sonya DuncanAey Allen, owner of the Vine Thai in Norwich. Photo: Sonya Duncan

But he said the impending lockdown gave an added importance to the last few days of trade, and said they had seen a rush of people trying to book a last-minute table.

“We were pretty much fully booked,” he said, “but we have seen a demand for tables, people have been phoning up and we are only able to squeeze in a few because of our reduced capacity.

Ian Hacon and Chris Carr, owners of Zaks. Pic: ArchantIan Hacon and Chris Carr, owners of Zaks. Pic: Archant

“It’s hugely important - we are going to be at about 20pc [after lockdown] because we are returning to takeaways, which only run at two sites.

“Every penny counts, and will go towards all the bills and overheads.”

Restaurants have seen a rise in demand. Photo: kieferpix/Getty Images/iStockphotoRestaurants have seen a rise in demand. Photo: kieferpix/Getty Images/iStockphoto

He said they’d had to cancel a lot of bookings in November, but said that customers had been supportive, and that from Thursday they would be returning to their takeaway service at their Mousehold and Poringland branches, with the Waterside one remaining closed.

“It’s really sad because this has been a rollercoaster year - we only purchased the business this year which was an amazing high, but we our team have been amazing and our customers have too,” he said. “Zaks isn’t going anywhere.”

Elsewhere, Alex Brake, at the Bird in Hand in Wreningham, said: “There’s been a mad panic to get a table before lockdown, so people can go out and for a meal before they are put back into lockdown.

“So [Tuesday night and Wednesday night] we are very busy which is really good to see, it’s lovely to see locals come out to support us.”

From Thursday, he said, they would be focusing on the takeaway side of the business, which they found success with in lockdown - but he warned it might be harder for businesses second time around.

“There will be a lot more competition this time,” he said. “There will be a few businesses that didn’t open last time, and are more willing to give it a go.

“It’s going to be quite difficult, there will be more choice.”

And Kelly Dougal, who runs the Wells Crab House, said many of those who had their November bookings cancelled had asked to move them to this week, and that any cancellations on Wednesday night - with people now not able to stay overnight apart from for work from Thursday - had been easily filled.

She said they were gearing up to return to takeaways again, and said that while lockdown was understandable, it was a shame after everyone had stuck to the rules so closely.


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