Zoe Fryday speaks to bar teams about their reopening experiences, as well as their hopes and plans moving forward
July saw the vast share of UK hospitality venues reopen after months of national lockdown. With strict social distancing regulations still in place, bar teams have had to make some big changes and get creative, ready to welcome back guests. They’ve been tasked with introducing new operational measures to safeguard customers and staff, while at the same time, ensuring patrons feel relaxed, comfortable and free to enjoy the in-venue experience.
Northern bar group Arc Inspirations, which operates three brands – Manahatta, Box and Banyan – has reopened all of its 17 sites. “We’ve had a really positive experience opening and our customers and teams are very pleased to be back,” says CEO Martin Wolstencroft. “Sales have exceeded our expectations, which is brilliant. Our neighbourhood sites have done particularly well, indicating that people are still keen to stay local. The teams have shown a tremendous amount of dedication and have pulled together to deliver excellent service.”
A huge amount of work and planning has gone into ensuring all the right procedures are in place at the Arc Inspiration venues, from mapping out new customer journeys to training teams and giving them confidence to operate under the new guidance. “We’ve installed Perspex between booths and at the bar area, tables are at least 1m apart and waiting zones are mapped out on the floor to help customers socially distance. There are limited menus, live entertainment is currently on pause and hand sanitiser stations and track and trace data capture are also in place. We’re asking customers to order at the bar and pay by card and are encouraging people to pre- book and pay a deposit, securing their table and protecting us from no shows. We’re rapidly working on getting our order and pay by mobile functionality up and running as soon as possible, allowing customers to order and pay on their phone without the need to stand at the bar.”
Once it is safe to do so and consumer confidence returns, the operator will open more of its brands in key cities, including Box in Manchester. “We’re also working on fantastic new menus for all three brands, which will launch over the next few months, and we will be taking part in the Government Eat Out to Help Out Scheme during August. Of course, there is a way to go yet, but we’re confident we can rebuild and bounce back stronger than ever.”
Skylight Rooftop at Tobacco Dock in London is fortunate to have an immense outdoor space, which has helped when it came to developing safe post-lockdown plans. “Our team really rallied together in the three weeks before 4 July and pulled off some incredible feats to get our outdoor venue ready for launch,” states Scott McVittie, event director at Meanwhile Events Ltd, the team behind the venue. “By freeing up the croquet lawns, we have been able to distance our tables further apart and create wide walk-ways for staff. It was important for us to utilise our space, allowing as many people as possible to return to Skylight whilst maintaining distancing measures. We have seen incredible demand and have been operating at near full occupancy since opening – the major caveat being that our new occupancy is 50% of what it once was.”
The most significant change, Scott explains, was moving to table service right across the venue for food and drink. Previously the four bars would serve drinks directly to customers and customers would have the choice to visit either of the venue’s food traders to place orders. “We’ve now centralised that so that our bartenders and chefs work independently from anyone else. We have dedicated staff who spend the entire shift sanitising common touch points, a one-way traffic system has been implemented and there are physical distancing markers throughout the venue and on all tables.”
So far, the team have had great feedback from guests, particularly surrounding the amount of space they have and the attention of detail they see from the cleaning crew. “They also really love not having to queue at the bar for food and drink,” says Scott. “Some of our audience still seems very cautious, while others want to see things return to normal quicker. We feel as though we’ve hit the right balance between those competing interests.”
The Churchill Bar and Terrace, located at the Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill, opened on Tuesday 7 July, revealing a redesigned outdoor summer terrace. The team say they started receiving bookings as soon as they announced the reopening on social media, with the first walk-in 15 minutes after opening the doors. “We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the positive response from people living and working locally in and around Marylebone,” explains bar manager Nelson Bernardes. It’s great to be finally reacquainted with all our tools, a fully stocked bar and be able to interact with guests again. We’re happy seeing people sip cocktails on the terrace and indoors again, enjoying life!”
The venue implemented a host of safety protocols in accordance with government guidelines and their own health and safety assessment, including carrying out temperature checks, hand sanitising stations and traffic flow signage, as well as many rigorous behind-the-scenes procedures. “A crucial element to successfully reopening rested on conducting intensive staff training, including a day for role play for different scenarios, which allowed staff time to familiarise themselves with the new procedures,” adds Nelson. “We’re continually looking to build on our own best practices for the safest environment possible. One of the new measures we have put in place is that our cocktail, food and cigar menus are viewable online using QR codes, to reduce touchpoints. It has been interesting to see, however, that around 80% of guests still request physical menus. We also have plans to launch new takeaway signature cocktails!”
After speaking to the various bar teams, overall, the mood appears to be positive. However, all agreed that more support from government is needed for the hospitality sector over the coming months. The recent announcement of a temporary reduction in the rate of VAT is a very welcome one, but many believe that further work needs to be done on the subject of rent. Although the future is uncertain, with the right support and the continued diligence of the industry, hospitality will be well on its way to recovery.
An emotional reopening for 67 Pall Mall
Private members club 67 Pall Mall reopened its doors on 4 July. Senior communications manager Stephanie Barnett explains that the team witnessed incredible reactions from members, verging on emotional. “For many of our guests, we were their first choice of drinking and dining experience outside of home since lockdown. Belated celebrations, socially-distanced reunions, special bottles being pulled from cellars – seeing the buzz once again has been magical. Staff, too, have been desperate to return to the club.”
Numerous changes have been made to the layout of the venue, both in the public areas and back-of-house, in order to comply with physical distancing rules. One example is a new piece of oak and rattan panelling from the main entrance to the Members’ Lounge through to the bar, which creates a protected route and screens off diners from the general traffic of people entering and leaving the space. A one-way system has also been put in place and there are lots of hand sanitiser stations dotted around.
“Our biggest challenge has been ensuring that our members stay a meter away,” says Stephanie. “We are very fortunate that our membership are full of incredible people who truly love the staff. Our members would never dream of not adhering to the rules, but some gentle reminders here and there have become part of daily life.”
East London Liquor Company welcomes back guests to its distillery bar
The team at the East London Liquor Company distillery bar have enjoyed welcoming regulars back after months apart and serving up some of their favourite cocktails again. “It has been incredibly encouraging to see the positive response from our customers – not just in their enthusiasm for our drinks, but also their patience and understanding as we’ve had to undertake a new way to serve them,” Alex Wolpert explains. “Everyone was extremely mindful of each other. With restrictions on space, we’ve had to limit the total number of tables available at what tends to be one of our busiest periods. However, we’ve managed to expand our outdoor seating area, which has worked out well for us so far.”