Covid-19: Dining at London’s Wolseley and Dishoom may be easier than ever
Throughout the country, hospitality businesses will be operating at reduced capacity with new measures in place to comply with safety guidelines. Managers must control numbers, space out diners and step up hygiene to avoid further outbreaks.Updated: Jul 02, 2020 16:34 IST
It used to regularly take an hour to get into Dishoom in London. Business was so brisk that the small chain of Indian restaurants didn’t need to take bookings for dinner. When it reopens this month, customers will be able to reserve a table—should they decide to go.
Dishoom has been preparing for life after lockdown, though in a world with social distancing to avoid further outbreaks of Covid-19. At eateries across the country, managers must control numbers, space out diners and step up hygiene. Dishoom co-founder Shamil Thakrar said he’s nervous.
“We have done an enormous amount of work, and we are good to go, but in terms of whether people will show up, we have to see,” said Thakrar, who will open Dishoom branches in stages starting on July 10 and trial the reservation system until the end of the month. “The economic viability of restaurants is not a given under these conditions.”
The reopening will be welcomed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is trying to shift the political agenda onto his plans for economic revival. The risk is how to balance the potential harm of a resurgence in coronavirus in the worst-hit country in Europe with efforts to restart businesses that are facing ruin as Britain heads into the deepest recession of any major economy.
The gamble was evident this week as the city of Leicester, 100 miles north of London, went back into lockdown because of a spike in cases. The U.K.’s chief medical officer warned the country must not be reckless after beaches were packed during a period of hot weather last month.
Johnson has given the green light for pubs, restaurants and hotels in England to open doors again starting July 4, the next stage in the emergence from a lockdown imposed in March. Most stores were allowed to reopen last month, with lines of shoppers spaced apart waiting to enter them.
Few restaurateurs and pub landlords expect a return to normal anytime soon with an absence of tourists. Britain’s capital city—the engine of past national recoveries—remains a relative ghost town, with commuters working from home or unemployed, theaters closed, and no public sporting events or concerts.
It leaves some exclusive establishments a little less exclusive. The Wolseley, a center for power dining on London’s Piccadilly, will open on July 4. Getting a table afterwards won’t be a problem.
“The Wolseley will be packed on Saturday night, but there is plenty of room next week—it is nowhere near normal demand,” said Jeremy King, co-owner of Corbin & King, which owns The Wolseley. “We won’t make any money—it’s a question of how much we lose.”
Throughout the country, hospitality businesses will be operating at reduced capacity with new measures in place to comply with safety guidelines. At best, they expect to break even this year, and fear a worse result if reopening sparks another spike in infections.
“The reopening weekend is the start of a process not the end of one,” said Kate Nicholls, chief executive officer of UKHospitality, a trade association representing more than 700 companies.
Bars, restaurants and hotels will be relying largely on the domestic market to drive revenue. The U.K. introduced a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for all incoming travelers from abroad on June 8. While the government has said it will set up so-called air bridges with specific countries, it hasn’t yet published details of the plan.
Whatever happens on that front, fear of contracting the virus may discourage visitors from overseas during the vital summer vacation season. And even some locals say they’re not rushing out for a night on the town.
“I’m really enjoying having picnics and barbecues in the garden,” said Zoe Sayliss, 24, a trainee teacher from Welwyn Garden City on the outskirts of London. “While the weather’s lovely, I have zero desire to go to a restaurant or pub.”
The list of London restaurants that will close permanently is growing, and includes such high-profile names as Le Caprice, The Greenhouse, The Ledbury, Siren and Indian Accent.
“We have not seen the last of the distress in the sector,” said Will Wright, head of regional restructuring at accountancy firm KPMG. “Counter-intuitively, sometimes the cash position of a business can become more acute as you try and reopen as you need to start paying suppliers.”
Dozens of restaurants in the capital put their names to a letter addressed to Johnson and London Mayor Sadiq Khan this week calling for a number of steps including ending the quarantine, testing visitors as they enter the country and suspending London’s congestion charge, a fee drivers pay to enter some central parts of the city.
The letter also suggested the creation of “Beat the Virus Guides” to hand out free face masks, a practice adopted in Berlin.
The British Beer & Pub Association estimates that about 80% of the 37,500 pubs in England will reopen on Saturday, with the rest in the coming weeks. Pubs in Scotland and Wales have yet to be given the green light to reopen.
The pandemic has wreaked particular havoc on pubs. A number of establishments had already closed in the past decade because of rising costs and a growing preference for higher-end places over traditional “boozers.” At least one pub closed every day last year, according to Emma McClarkin, CEO of the Beer & Pub Association.
It will now cost the industry an estimated 450 million pounds ($558 million) to ensure that pubs and brewers are Covid-19 compliant this year, McClarkin estimated. Customers can expect to be met at the door and asked for contacts details to help with track-and-trace measures. Perspex screens will be installed in some cases, and table service will largely replace ordering and drinking at the bar.
Luxury hotels that normally attract visitors with amenities like pools and gyms may suffer lost business as long as those services remain shut, as will those that rely on banqueting services and events such as conferences and ballroom receptions, according to Nicholls from UKHospitality.
Guests can now expect to see such things as electronic menus in hotel restaurants and “personal amenity kids” with face masks, sanitizer and wipes in the rooms. Some hotel entrances will have thermal-imaging cameras.
Corinthia London, located between Trafalgar Square and the Thames Embankment, will reopen about 90 of its usual 280 rooms on Saturday, with fewer staff.
The hotel usually gets 78% of its business from the international market, with roughly half of that from the U.S., according to Managing Director Thomas Kochs. About a fifth normally comes from the U.K. The hotel group expects 10-15% occupancy in July. Normally at this time of year, it would be around 90%, he said.
“We are sending a very hospitable message out: You will be safe, we will look after you, but we are here to give you a good time again,” Kochs said. “I am more optimistic than pessimistic, but not to the point where it turns naïve. It will take a long time to come back to pre-Covid levels.”
(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.)