Reopening restaurants during social distancing “impossible and implausible”

By Stefan Chomka

- Last updated on GMT

Restaurants reopen London UK Coronavirus

Related tags Restaurant Coronavirus

A number of London’s top restaurateurs have pushed back at the idea of reopening their venues while physical distancing measures designed to curb the spread of Coronavirus are in place.

Writing in the Corbin & King newsletter, co-founder Jeremy King says that reopening one of the group’s restaurants during a time when social distancing is necessary would be “impossible and implausible”.

“Chris [Corbin] and I always had as our guiding light the premise that we opened restaurants we would like to go to,” he says. "I am afraid I certainly have no interest in going to a place where I am sitting in isolation, surrounded by Perspex screens and served by someone in a mask and gloves – where’s the fun in that?

“Restaurants are generally social hubs which depend on the conviviality of community and we need to understand this.

“One thing I do know for sure is that when we do return Social Distancing in a restaurant is impossible and implausible - I think that people are beginning to realise that.”

His views are echoed by Will Beckett, co-founder of steakhouse group Hawksmoor, who also believes that opening restaurants under social distancing rules could be damaging for the sector.

“My view is that if politicians open bars and restaurants at a time when they also think everyone has got to stay two metres away from each other and they have to wear masks and there has to be perspex screens, I think they will do long-term damage to the industry because the perception will stick that restaurants are not a safe place to be,” he says.

“We’ve got to get through that bit unopen.”

Their views come as images of restaurants in other countries starting to reopen under social distancing laws have been circulated online​. Images of restaurants in Rome and Milan have shown restaurants set up using perspex screens that separate tables and which are also being used to separate diners on individual tables.

Jo Fleet, managing director of Flat Iron, says she is also concerned about the potential impact of social distancing on restaurants.

“How are you going to open a restaurant with half the number of covers but still have a great atmosphere, with people being really scared and having to distance themselves [from each other] and the team?,” she says.

“I just think it’s all going to be very strange.

“Most of the high street restaurants are based on volume, so if they are not going to have that volume and with the margins so tight, it is more about whether it’s viable to open.”

In his newsletter, King also expresses his disappointment that tronc is not included in the furlough scheme​, saying that the company has been supplementing its staff where it can. However, he says that the problems this omission by the Government is causing for those in the hospitality sector should not be used a sole reason to expedite a return to trading.

Citing an incident during the Spanish Flu outbreak in the US in 1918 where a premature lift of quarantine led to numerous additional deaths, he says: “I am not advocating a premature return to restaurant trading.

"I do think we have to be prudent but there will come a point where we weigh up the pros and cons of the direct threat against the latent damage in other ways – including health.”

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