Leading figures contacted by the Standard say that customers will have to get used to “supermarket-style” queues outside the front entrance — and for the lavatories — to reduce close contact, as well as waiters in facemasks and gloves, far more widely spaced tables, and constant spraying and wiping of objects touched by customers such as door handles. Diners with coughs could be refused entry.
Some are even looking to innovations that have allowed Hong Kong restaurants to reopen, such as pre-ordering food and drink to cut out the need for handing out menus, and payment in advance so that no card machines have to be passed to diners.
Food and drink could also be “delivered” to empty tables close to diners who would then have to carry plates and glasses to their own place settings. Screens between tables is also an option and cost-cutting measures such as limited menus are likely.
However, restaurant bosses have warned that the two-metre social distancing rules will have to be relaxed or the industry will be “wiped out”.
The sectors trade body UK Hospitality has calculated that strict observance of the rule will cut the capacity of fine dining restaurants by an average of 55 per cent, and of more casual restaurants, where tables are closer together, by 70 per cent.
Ranjit Mathrani, chairman of restaurant group MW Eat, which runs Londons Chutney Mary, Amaya, Veeraswamy and the Masala Zones mini-chain, said that social distancing of about 75cm is the maximum that most restaurant businesses could tolerate and still have a chance of making money.
Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton said that he was planning to remove about 40 per cent of the tables from his restaurants, which includes his Mayfair flagship, Pollen Street Social.
He said that diners would be offered the option of pouring their own wine, and the days of having “three or four waiters all over you” at your table are over — for now.
He will also have an extra member of staff on the door so that arrivals can be whisked to their tables.
Sam Harrison, owner of Sams Riverside in Hammersmith, said it would be “incredibly hard to make it work” but was considering removing half the tables, only opening Thursday evening to Sunday lunch, as well as installing portable hand basins at the entrance.
Des Gunewardena, chief executive of fine-dining group D&D London said a huge lack of guidance from government was making it hard to plan for reopening.
He added: “Ultimately we are not going to get back to proper normal until weve got the vaccine.”