‘Ringing off the hook’ - boom for restaurants in rush for final pre-lockdown meal
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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.
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.
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.
“It was incredible, really surprising. So we have ended up fully booked.
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“Any money we can get in the bank will protect us for the next month or so.”
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.
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Aey Allen, of the Vine Thai in Norwich’s Dove Street, said they were also enjoying a busy week.
“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.
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.
“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.”
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.