‘A customer threw a drink over staff’ - one restaurant owner’s Eat Out to Help Out experience
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020
For many restaurants, the Eat Out to Help Out scheme has been a blessing. But some of those in already busy tourist areas have struggled to cope with overwhelming demand. Kaeti Newport, at The Smokehouse in Ormesby, has spoken about her experience.
“We hadn’t been open long enough since Covid-19 when it started. We had a huge 48-page document we had to go through and personalise to our business. There were no definites in it, but we had everything in place as much as we possibly could.
“We had to have more staff which was great, but you can only have them in certain clusters, which makes the routine very, very difficult.
“Eat Out to Help Out has been good for busy towns or cities, but the government is locking down countries and telling people they need to quarantine when they get back from holidays, and that has encouraged people to do staycations and go to the seaside areas.
“As a result seaside resorts everywhere have been inundated. We’ve had to pay someone to stand on the door allow people in at certain times. We have had to employ someone for 70 hours a week to answer the phone and tell people we are fully booked. The phone does not stop ringing.
“We have been very fortunate in that we are a popular restaurant anyway and we have been busy on the Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
“We have seating outside for 100 people - you try and take walk-ins for outside seating but that turned us into a much bigger seated restaurant than what our kitchen could handle.
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“People have been abusive about the fact they can’t get in. We’ve had people sneak in and sit at a table. The host who has sat them at the table and the waiters who take their order don’t know they weren’t booked. Then the pre-booked tables come in and we have a serious problem and try and flip tables. It’s inundated us.
“As a result of these things we put measures in place. We hired even more staff, which meant more hours for the existing staff to train the new ones up.
“We bought a massive smoker which would double our capacity to smoke meat. Our ribs are smoked for eight hours and they are beautiful, and we didn’t want to compromise on the quality. So we invested in a smoker nearly three times the size, imported from America.
“We bought new walkie-talkes so we can communicate without phoning each other. We introduced changes and the waiting time went down. People were sat and told it would be a minimum of 40 minutes wait because everything is fresh to order.
“Then I think it started to run more smoothly.
“But I promised I would never put the staff in the position they felt on that first week, emotionally and physically exhausted.
“We have had a customer throw a drink over a member of staff, we have had a customer swearing at staff. Customers refusing to pay, coming in on a Sunday and saying it’s disgusting we aren’t offering the deal.
“We have tried our very best to accommodate our locals as much as we can. We don’t want to alienate the people who carry us through the winter.
“We refused to drop our standards after we held our hands up and said we did let that quality slip. Other businesses in the area said the same.
“I think the government could have given restaurants the choice of [using the scheme] in a month in the lead-up to Christmas - for coastal areas, October is a notoriously quiet month.
“It was overwhelming, it was too much. We were doing 20-hour shifts, making sure we stayed until about 6am or 7am so our staff could get sleep.
“We were working on a lower amount of staff, with a 200pc [increased] volume of customers coming through the door.
“Don’t get me wrong, it’s very positive but it’s the wrong time of year in coastal areas, when they are stopping people from going abroad.
“There’s no point throwing the towel in with something like that when we are providing such a good thing for customers. It’s about sitting down as a team and implementing changes.
“We lost four months of business this year and more than £18,000 worth of stock, so if anybody around here is breaking even that is great for them.
“In September I think we will go back to normal, and maybe consider doing a promotional offer in winter.
“We serve excellent food and we have excellent service. We have done our absolute best.”