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Okay, we hear you, 'the new normal' is a phrase that's managed to seamlessly infiltrate our post-lockdown vocabulary almost overnight ... but what does it really mean?
Well, when it comes to eating out with the family, there are a number of changes that restaurants, cafes, bars, pubs, insert-other-food-and-drink-orientated-business-here have put in place.
You might find yourselves ordering a meal by an app. You'll probably have to provide contact tracing information. Basically, the new systems put in place are many and varied. So we've put together an easy roadmap for heading out into 'the new normal', so that you can kick up your feet and enjoy having someone else cook dinner for you and the kids. You'll also be helping to kickstart the economy and support local business too, so it's a win all-round.
Before You Leave...
We've included a handy checklist of things that you may want to bring with you before departing for your meal out. At the time of writing (July 2020), government advice is to avoid public transport unless essential, so drive, cycle or walk if you can.
However you get to the restaurant, the following items may come in useful.
- Mask, or other face covering
- Hand sanitiser
- A pen (for filling in contact tracing information without using a communal pen)
- Card for payment (many places are cashless to reduce contact)
- Tissues (if you feel you need them)
- Gloves (again, if you feel you need them)
What Kind Of Changes Can You Expect To See?
Quite a few different strategies have been put in place by restaurants. Here's a rundown of the kinds of changes you might see when dining out:
Pre-book: Almost all venues need you to pre-book. This is because, in accordance with social distancing rules, restaurants are operating at a lower capacity than pre-lockdown, so table numbers are limited. Remember to ask if bookings with children are allowed. Many places are taking them, but some may have chosen not to do so. If you need to cancel your booking, ensure you let businesses know: restaurants are reliant on your revenue for survival, so it's more important than ever to let them know in advance if they'll have more space than anticipated.
Sizes of bookings: Only attend with your own household, or with one other, in accordance with the government's guidelines around bubbles. If you have more than 5 people in your group, you may be asked to sit at a table outside, so remember to check the weather!
Getting there: Venues have been encouraged to work with local authorities to safeguard their diners' experience from the off in order to minimise the use of public transport. Extra bike racks have been encouraged -- don't forget your helmet and lights! Extra car parking spaces may have been made available.
Provisions for kids: Play areas for children may well be closed pending inspection, so bring other entertainment if you think your kids might need it. Don't expect the restaurant to provide pens or paper for colouring, as they will have to be strict about touch contact between their staff and guests.
At the venue: Once there, social distancing is a matter of course. This plays out in a variety of ways. New approaches to queueing have been implemented in some instances, whereby the 1m social distance rule calls for groups to keep apart from one another, and perhaps wait for their table outside the venue before being called in. Restaurants may have one-way systems to direct the flow of both staff and customers. Staggered entry times have been put in place in some instances so as to minimise the risk of bottlenecks and manage customer and staff flow.
Cleaning: Regular cleaning is taking place where contact is more frequent, and visitors may be advised to wash their hands or use sanitiser before eating (which you should probably do anyway). There may also be a limit on the number of people allowed in toilets, so remember to advise your kids to be respectful of this. Disposable menus are becoming more frequent. Some restaurants require you to provide your contact details -- usually a name and number -- so that these are on file in case they need to contact you later. The norm seems to be that only one member of each party need fill this in.
Ordering and payment: Service style will vary between institutions. In some businesses, an app has been built so that you can order all food and drink remotely, with waiters (often wearing protective visors) bringing it to you when ready. Ordering at the bar or the till is not always an option, even in some pubs; table service will be provided by front of house staff, with bar staff and floor staff often split into two teams in order to minimise contact between the two. Perspex screens may further distance back of house and front of house areas. Contactless payment, or payment by app, is almost universal, so remember your card.
What Kind Of Venues Are Now Open?
Honestly, the restaurants opening across the UK differ depending on circumstance. For some, it's more of a struggle, as they may be too small a space to operate in a socially distanced manner that's financially beneficial. Outdoor space is a significant asset for businesses, as it will enable larger parties of more households to meet, but this is weather dependant, and as we all know, the UK's climate is ... um ... unpredictable at best.
Our advice is to google your favourite haunt, and see whether they're advertising themselves as open, and under what conditions. Be aware that places will need to be adaptive, likely changing what they're offering on a weekly basis depending on what does and doesn't work.
Don't Forget To Enjoy Yourselves
It's been a weird and wonderful time for all, but it's finally summer, places are beginning to open up again, and you can actually go for that meal that you've been craving. Leave the washing up at home, wave goodbye to the eternal loading and unloading of the dishwasher -- seriously though, does it ever end?! -- and embrace the new normal of eating out as a family.
Alice grew up in London where she's now based, but she's happiest by the sea, or reading somewhere snuggled up with her 5 dogs. She has two younger sisters who keep her on her toes, and is passionate about all things art, literature, and culture - she's written a short collection of poems and continues to edit scripts for theatre, tv, and film on a freelance basis.