‘It took some getting used to’: Islington’s pub and restaurant staff pleased to reopen on ‘Super Saturday’
- Credit: La Petite Auberge
Landlords and restaurant owners in Islington were pleased to welcome back punters and diners for the first time in more than three months on ‘Super Saturday’, when the government eased lockdown restrictions.
Lynne Parker, general manager at the Highbury Barn Tavern in Highbury East, said it had been a success.
“It took some getting used to for both the staff and the customers,” she said. “Obviously things are very different now and we have had to adapt, but our customers were very understanding of that.”
The pub now has table service only with no standing room, a one-way system, hand sanitiser stations and new rules for bathroom use. About half the tables have been removed, leaving 15 and half the previous seated capacity.
All staff have been on furlough up until now, and the pub has been selling take away draft beer in milk cartons.
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“The bar culture has changed drastically because of that, and there are lots of rules to get our heads around and make sure customers still enjoy being in the pub in this new environment,” said Lynne.
Although there were stories in the national press of social distancing rules being flouted, that didn’t happen at the Highbury Barn.
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“We staffed it to enforce it,” she said. “No one was telling people off but we were reminding people, and we made it clear on entry. We saw quite a few of our regulars. People are making their own decisions as to what’s appropriate.”
Ottolenghi cafe in Upper Street has been open for take away for two months, and continued to do so on Saturday, with no seated customers. The French restaurant opposite, La Petite Auberge, opened back up on Saturday though, albeit at a reduced capacity.
The 120-cover restaurant which opened 20 years ago, is now catering for 60 maximum, spread over two floors, with a distance of at least a metre between customers.
Selling takeway food over the past three months has helped them stay afloat, along with government loans and grants.
Manager Furkan Kapucu is hopeful that if weekends continue to be as busy as Saturday was, the business will survive.
“The future is a bit bleak future as you know, and we don’t know what’s going to happen to be honest, but I am reassured by Saturday. I’m very positive, if it carries on like this,” he said.
“All the staff are pleased to come back, and we have a lot of regular customers. Some were back on Saturday, and we were quite excited to see each other after three months. It was emotional.
“We have known some of our customers for six or seven or eight years. It was very good to see them, although it was weird because we had masks and gloves on. It was a different feeling. “They couldn’t hear what I said and I had to repeat myself several times. We had to keep our distance while taking the orders.”
He continued: “It is hard. Normally when a regular customer comes in we are shaking hands and it’s like a formal greeting. We aren’t used to keeping our distance. To be honest I didn’t find it easy.”
Wine bar The Oak N4 has been trading as an off-licence for the past three months with a “slow trickle” of takeaways, as well as conducting online wine tasting accompanied with pre-recorded YouTube videos.
With no rent reduction from their landlord, they are glad to be back open, albeit with three less tables and 12 less chairs to allow social distancing.
Manager Cameron Mckeown said: “It was wonderful. Everyone was so pleased to be at a social setting. The buzz was lovely. The mood was great. The weather was quite kind to us. The windows were open so there was lots of air going through the place and it seemed quite normal, if you know what I mean. It didn’t seem Covid related.
“There is still the unknown of how everyone will be and if they will be precious about how close they are sitting next to anyone else. Everyone was well behaved but the fact we don’t serve pints helped. It’s all wine. There was a lot of champagne being drunk to celebrate.”
He is interested to see how taking customers’ details in case someone comes down with coronavirus links in with GDPR privacy rules.
“As part of the Zoom call we had last week with police and the licensing guys giving us directions how they wanted us to behave, one of the things that came up with track and trace is to get everyone’s email and telephone numbers, which is a new thing for customers,” said Cameron.
“How that interferes with GDPR is something we are a little bit uncertain about. How does that work if someone came in and said they don’t want to hand over their details. On Saturday we went over with a book and wrote everyone’s details down. Everyone understands we will have to make some changes and see how things go.
“I think people were very accepting of the new normal. We had a good buzz.”