After Lockdown - Return to Business - Time to Think Outside the Box

Chef Chris Hadlington says industry professionals have the expertise to find solutions to the demands being placed on hospitality businesses by government - and suggests a few practical ideas to get the debate started 

The time is fast approaching when restaurants, bars and cafés will be re-opening after lockdown and we’ll need to be prepared to operate in a very different world.

The doom and gloom being spread by many people in the hospitality industry is, in my opinion, very sad. We’re the guys and gals whose raison d’etre is to cheer people up and make them happy during difficult times, so we need to be proactive in the preparation of our establishments and educate the government about what we can do to revive our sector of the economy.

We are the industry professionals so we should have the expertise to find solutions to the demands being placed on us by government. I’d like to share some ideas that businesses could consider implementing, or that might get owners thinking positively about practical measures that could be developed in their particular situation.

These concepts are offered as outlines of what we can do to keep customers and staff safe while remaining compliant with Government guidelines and yet maintaining an acceptable level of profitability. We can split these concepts into two categories

1. The physical methods of compliance.
2. Operational changes.



Restaurants, bars and cafés are being asked to reduce capacity by 50% by spacing tables 2 metres apart. There has been no alternative offered and it’s clear that a 50% reduction in customers would be devastating:

Create booths.
This need not be an expensive or constrictive concept but will certainly maximise seating in any space.

• Build screens using timber and perspex.
• They need to be light and mobile.
• Based on a simple timber frame surrounding and a 2mm thick sheet of perspex, the screens need to be approx.1200mm long x 1200 to 2000mm high, on legs up to 500mm tall.
• In a bar or café with smaller tables, the screens can be sized to suit the space and style.
• If made from clear perspex, customers will not feel claustrophobic and you have the opportunity to decorate the screens with logos, graphics, artwork or even to put the menu on, which will avoid the need to have paper/card menus.
• It’s also possible that in some circumstances you could create the screens using curtain fabric, MDF board, or indeed any other material that will create the separation and enhance the style of your eating area.
• Use these screens to separate tables so there is no longer a need for tables to be 2 metres apart. Also, as they will be light and moveable, place a screen in front of the table. Service staff will then be able to move them simply to access the table. This will require some modification to service.
• For bars, these booths could be created in a similar construction but 3-sided to sit partly on the bar, obviously with a gap at the bottom of the bar side to pass drinks through.

In kitchens, production areas and washups may become a bit more of a problem and will require screens to be designed for your style and space, but the same principles will apply by ensuring that the screens are lightweight and readily moveable.


Front-of-house staff
It would be prudent that all front-of-house staff wear masks. This is mainly for their protection. These don’t have to be medical-style masks but can be made easily from layers of cotton in an attractive material to enhance the establishment style. If correctly made, they would be washable and therefore re-useable.

Guest arrival
As guests arrive it might be advisable to take their temperature, insist on the use of hand sanitising gel and offer facemasks. This will not be the easiest thing for staff to do as it’s not how we treat people normally in hospitality, but these are not normal times and I intend to lobby government and hospitality trade bodies to publicise the need for such actions to avoid the potential backlash on our staff.

If tables are not ready then guests will need to queue, respecting Social Distancing. If there is not sufficient space inside, then guests will need to stay outside. Not the best if it’s raining or cold, but we must do what we can to make them comfortable and reduce the waiting time as much as possible.
It’s worth staggering bookings if possible and making customers aware when they book that they will need to meet that booking time to prevent any discomfort. Also at the time of booking, guests can be made aware of temperature testing and service style to prevent any shock on arrival.
Where the establishment is based on walk-in customers, strict control over numbers will need to be kept.

The Menu
There are many ways we can present menus without the written card or leather-bound tome.
• Using a tablet is an expensive way of doing it, but they can be sanitised after collection from customers. Or staff can input the order on the tabet
• Menu cards can be single use and disposable, although this is not necessarily the most environmentally friendly presentation.
• The menu could possibly be projected onto a wall or screen for all to see.
• Menus could be written up on the dividing screens for a bit of fun and practicability.

Crockery, cutlery and glassware
• These need to be sanitised before handing to customers. Mainly they will be “sterilised” when leaving the dishwashing machines but, given the airborne capabilities of Covid 19, a final sanitising may ideally be prudent. (Diversey have a product called “Suma Quat D4 Sanitiser”. I know this is used in Hong Kong where plates, cups, bowls etc. are sprayed with a dilute solution before being handed to guests.)
• Glassware needs to be stored open side down on sanitised trays and only handled by stem or base, but that’s normal good practice in bars and restaurants anyway.

Food style and service
While this may raise the hackles of many a chef/patron, I suggest that we create menus made up of “Sharing Platters”. But, continuing the theme of being creative, this need not be detrimental to the quality of food offered before lockdown, even though it will require a lot of lateral thinking to be a success.

• Tables could be pre-laid ready for guests, or cutlery could be wrapped to prevent any contamination.
• You could use personalised paper bags and linen napkins.
• The menu could be printed on the bag or an envelope with the cutlery inside.
• I recommend that table furniture (flowers, cruets etc.) are excluded from table setup.
• Create the dishes and design the presentation to sit on a board or platter. Each course could have its own style and that leaves the style of presentation wide open to interpretation!
• Once the food is ready for service, the service staff would take the appropriate sanitised plates or bowls to the table, then a single board with the chosen dishes presented on it would be placed on the table for guests to help themselves.

It’s important that this is well-rehearsed as it’s imperative that staff spend the minimum time in close proximity to the customers, that the staff wear masks, protective visors and protective gloves. Again, jolly these PPE items up for a bit of fun.
All drinks could also be served simply on a tray for guests to dispense themselves or, for hot beverages, you could offer a self-serve drinks service station.
You might want to consider asking guests to get their own drinks, including wine, from the bar but these are all things that will be dictated by the design and space in your restaurant.

In Conclusion.

I understand that what I am suggesting above may not suit everyone’s operation and many of you may think it’s a bridge too far and therefore not worth it. I would however urge you to take it as it’s meant and that’s to help everyone to think “outside the box” and create ways in which your business and our industry will survive - and just show people how resilient we are.

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