Three-day weeks facilitated by artificial intelligence; floor marks around office desks dictating how close colleagues may engage with each other; physical retail relying on immersive pods and conveyor belts – the predictions about life after Covid-19 are extremely varied.
But, notwithstanding how grim some predictions are – The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) predicted a £800bn hit to economy in UK over next 10 years in late April – the restaurant industry is feeling pretty optimistic. At least, that’s the impression we got speaking to Hide restauranteur Tatiana Fokina.
“The lockdown has hit the hospitality industry hard, and restaurants have been forced to adapt or close temporarily – but the team and I at Hide feel that, as the lockdown eases, there will be a short period of uncertainty but as people’s confidence grows, but across the board there will be a real bounce-back, and restaurants will see a boom in trade,” says Fokina, speaking to Robb Report UK after consultation with her team at Hide.
“Before the lockdown, eating out had become more and more common, making it less and less of a luxury. The absence endured will elevate eating out again to something we see as a treat. For lots of people there will be a greater appreciation of restaurants in general, not just fine dining, for the skill that goes into cooking and serving food well. Those who have spent the lockdown cooking at home, and the many that have been trying to re-create recipes from their favourite chefs, will certainly have a newfound understanding of the skill that goes into cooking at Michelin Star level.
“Great service and the theatre of dining will be at the forefront, with front of house staff working to give guests experience they have missed, the attention to detail that has been hard to create at home.”
Part of the rejuvenation of fine dining, says Fokina, will be a fresh zeal – born of weeks of ennui – on the part of restaurant staff. “Behind the scenes, there will be renewed vigour in the kitchens and front of house,” she says. “Many will have had time to relax and appreciate their job more. With this renewed energy we can expect some incredible food to be leaving the kitchen and second to none service from the front of house.”
As for the social distancing measures likely to linger in our social lives for the foreseeable, Fokina says this is one for restaurants to play by ear: “We expect that we will have to lose some tables to allow for social distancing rules to be accommodated,” she says. “We’ll try to gauge as much information on what will provide the necessary level of comfort for our guests on their arrival or, better still, when they book. We’re planning for every table to have hand sanitiser in the drawer although I don’t think waiters will be wearing masks. Some people might prefer to do soft drink/wine pouring themselves to minimise contact with waiters and sommeliers. We’ll not use menu covers, and will continue using tablets for wine orders.”
The industry has been kept alive in part, says Fokina, by delivery options such as Hide’s Hide at Home. Conversely, as the traditional business meeting begins to take place face-to-face once more, high end restaurants will, she says, “be a popular choice for meeting clients whether it be a quick breakfast meeting, working lunch or client entertainment. Those restaurants that can offer private dining options will likely see these being used more, with guests seeking discreet spaces for these meetings.”
Needless to say, customers post-Covid-19 will expect altogether different standards when it comes to dining in an environment that is (hopefully) pathogen free: “It goes without saying that all eyes will be on hygiene and cleanliness more than ever,” she says. “Sadly, this will affect smaller venues and those with counter and table side dining the most. However, this will force innovation and restaurants will adapt to offer a new normal for their guests”