'Sofa to 100m Olympic sprint' - City restaurants gear up for busy May 17
- Credit: Simon Finlay Photography
Restaurants which have been closed since Christmas are gearing up to be plunged back into the rush as they finally reopen indoors next week.
From May 17, prime minister Boris Johnson confirmed on Monday night, restaurants and pubs will be able to serve customers inside.
They will still need to abide by social distancing rules, but will be able to take a few more steps back to normality after a month of only being allowed to serve customers outdoors.
In Norwich, where the make-up of the city means outside space tends to be more limited than in areas elsewhere around the county, it will make a significant difference.
For the last few weeks, diners have been braving rain and windy weather to eat outside, but the poor weather has forced many to close.
Richard Bainbridge, at Benedicts in Norwich's St Benedicts Street, said the team, who had been reunited since May 1, were "buzzing".
"We are looking at it like we are opening a new restaurant," he said. “We have really tried to bring that energy. The hospitality industry is known for working really hard, but it's going to be like going straight to the Olympics and doing a 100m sprint after being on the sofa.
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"It's given us the breather we need after five years and we want to turn it into a positive."
The restaurant, which will open on Wednesday, May 19, looks set to have a busy few weeks - Mr Bainbridge said their Friday and Saturday slots were booked up into September, while most slots for the next month were taken.
But he said he was keen they paced themselves, and that pre-pandemic full capacity was roughly 70 people, while now it was nearer 40.
"The expectations are high," he said. "People have been sitting at home for a year and now are desperate to come out for a meal.
"We're a little but nervous but we couldn't be more excited."
Venues including the Vine Thai, on Dove Street, will be counting down the days - owner Aey Allen challenged a licensing decision to be allowed to have tables outside, but the still-limited space means opening inside was key to the business being viable.
Hannah Springham, of Farmyard in Norwich, which is also on St Benedicts Street, and the Dial House in Reepham, said they were looking "very busy" in the next few weeks, but said they were cautious of easing staff back in.
The restaurant will stay closed on Mondays and Tuesdays but will reopen on May 19.
"We are really, really thrilled to be reopening again," she said. "It feels electric and it's what life is all about, the experiences. The best bit of this year has been the love and understanding for the hospitality industry.
"People in Britain like an underdog, and the underdog has been hospitality."
Before the pandemic, she said the difficulties of industry, including rising costs and the impact of Brexit, had largely not been seen, but the pandemic had thrust its challenges into the spotlight.
Looking forward, she said the pedestrianisation of St Benedicts Street, which was agreed in July last year to give restaurants more access to outdoor seating, come into its own this summer.
"It was a lot of pain to get to that point and a lot of opposition," she said, "but those extra seats will give our customers the space they need."
Alex Brake, at the Bird in Hand in Wreningham, said they were excited to reopen and, after a lot of preparation, were almost ready to do so. He said bookings were strong, and that they were keen to ease themselves back into business, building up trade over the next couple of months.
But he said while he welcomed the May 17 relaxation, he wouldn't be able to breathe a sigh of relief until social distancing rules were dropped.
"What we yearn for is normality," said. "People being able to come up to a bar and order a drink."
Taking the positives from pandemic rules
Restrictions brought in during the pandemic hit traders hard, but some of the rules have inspired owners to make more permanent changes.
Mr Bainbridge said having seen an explosion of options for lunches in the city, they would reduce the days they opened for lunches to just Friday and Saturday.
He said it was a chance to give staff a better work life balance.
Decisions inspired by the move to takeaways are also likely to stay - Mr Bainbridge will continue his Dine at Home menu after fully reopening, for example.
And Ms Springham said their Farmyard Frozen range, launched in lockdown, would continue to be a priority, and would now be stocked in 10 outlets around the county.
Tudoo, which develops takeaway and ordering apps for local businesses, said many of its businesses were planning to continue using apps for ordering in-house in the future.
Elsewhere in Norfolk, Ben Handley, of the Duck Inn in Stanhoe, said they were considering reducing their maximum table sizes after restrictions on booking numbers.