Tees Talk: food for thought among Covid restrictions

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We asked Tees business owners – including three who run local eateries – if they think restaurants and bars will reopen again this year and, if so, how they think they will be different amid Covid guidelines.

Marcus Bennett, co-owner, Bay Horse Hurworth, Muse, Cena and The Devonport

“I’m not a medical expert but my view is if we can’t open restaurants at pretty much full capacity then it’s probably best not to open them at all. It’s not viable to open our restaurants at, say, 50% capacity when we’ll have 100% costs.

“It’s very easy for the government to say ‘Yes, you can open your restaurant but make sure there’s social distancing’. It’s so hard to make that work. Visiting restaurant isn’t just about the food – it’s a social experience. And does anyone want serving by someone wearing protective gloves and a face mask? I don’t think so.

“So let’s either wait until we can’t open up as normal or, if there are going to be parameters, then the government will have to help and financially support those in our industry. We’re doing Saturday night takeaway dinners at Bay Horse and its sister restaurant, Muse in Yarm, and we’d rather carry on doing that than attempt to open in a way that just can’t work.”

Simon Fletcher, owner, Baker Street Kitchen, Middlesbrough

“It’s going to be a gradual opening of our industry, but we will all be open by the end of the year, with distancing in place for quite a long time.

“Businesses will have a totally different feeling with distancing – atmosphere will be lost, service will become much more distant, it won’t be as relaxing and enjoyable.

“Hopefully, as lockdown lifts, people will be desperate to come out to socialise, although some may be too wary. I am hopeful that we’ll soon bounce back to normal which is why I’m in the process of buying a wedding venue… enquiries welcome!”

Helen Roberts, co-owner, Oliver’s Fish & Chips, Redcar

“I think we will be back in restaurants and pubs this year. However, under what restrictions? Will our social lives ever be the same again? Or will the government allow us to return back to normal and allow the pandemic to hopefully settle down?

“As a Redcar business owner, we’re just slowly getting our takeaway back open and operating to full capacity. However, our restaurant is still closed and we envisage it will stay that way until July or whenever the government allows us to reopen – but under what restrictions? Whatever they are, they will have an impact on us financially.

“Our operating times within the takeaway have already changed, our business structure has been impacted and we’ve amended our serving methods. How and when we’ll be opening the restaurant is all dependent on the government guidelines. And when we do open, we are constantly asking ourselves questions such as ‘How will we ensure a two-metre distance when serving food to tables? How can staff consistently operate a two-metre distance?”

Alisdair Beveridge, managing director, The Build Directory, Stockton

“I think we will be back in both pubs and restaurants by the end of the year. However, I think this will be a gradual and staggered process.

“Already many local pubs and restaurants have started take-out services in order to innovate out of the current space, something they had not previously done. If it’s successful, perhaps this will become a new arm of their trading model. The Devonport in Middleton-One-Row is trialing this with fish and chips and it’s caused a positive stir in the village!

“Following lockdown, the prospect of seeing friends and families through a pint glass rather than a tablet screen will drive customers to the pubs, bars and restaurants and give them a well-deserved shot in the arm.”

Mike Marsh, managing director, Group Industrial, Middlesbrough

“I believe restaurants and public houses can begin to rebuild under the implementation of preventative measures and proactive initiatives that will ultimately offer an environment that remains a safe spot for guests during this unprecedented period.

“The commitment to such measures and strategies from both the establishments and the general public can allow the industry time to rebuild and subsequently allow the people to enjoy social enjoyment, albeit within a controlled environment.

“In addition to revised layout of restaurants, the use of computer technology will be an essential and significant component in terms of reservations, pre-ordering food and drink, and controlling attendance and seating periods.”