You won’t be surprised to learn that I love dining out. I wouldn’t write this blog if I didn’t.
I think it’s one of life’s simple, great pleasures. One that starts from the moment you contemplate going out – where you consider your options, from the location, to the type of dining experience, cuisine and even the time you want to eat.
Each of these options, leads you to a different set of possible venues and menus to consult. That’s before you arrive at the destination and welcome the warm welcome, delight at the drink selection, marvel at the menu and salivate over your selection.
Lockdown has been tough. I’ve missed dining out.
But if I think it has been tough, I can only imagine what it’s like for those who work in the sector and who own hospitality businesses. Since lockdown hit, we’ve seen plenty of announcements of chains closing sites or completely.
What we don’t hear so much of is the independents, and their struggles. Where they haven’t unlocked the doors post-lockdown, this hasn’t made the broadcast news. However, that’s the reality.
The hospitality industry has always operated with razor-thin profit margins. This means that so many places need to be full or have a high turnover of customers to stay afloat. Where they have managed to survive a period of low to no income, it’s by being innovative – offering takeaways or selling gift vouchers or future experiences like tasting and theme nights.
Even then, reopening with a fraction of the space you previously had and with fewer people willing to risk going out, it’s still going to be hard.
How can we help?
The best option of all is to go out and have a meal. I understand there are reasons why you might not want or be able to do this, but if you can, please do.
The Eat Out to Help Out scheme will encourage people, but restaurants will still need support on weekend nights and Sunday lunches.
If you do dine out, think about where you want to go. If there is a little restaurant local to you that you love and would hate to see disappear, then go there. If you can’t imagine the village without the pub, you need to get there and get spending.
And if you can, try and make the meal a good one. With fewer covers, it is going to be hard for places to survive if you only have a main course and tap water.
I appreciate this option is essentially asking you to spend money, and this might be money you don’t have. It’s likely I’ll be going out less than I used to, but I’ll probably spend more on a meal than in the past.
As I was lucky enough to continue working through lockdown, I can also justify spending a little of the money I didn’t spend when I couldn’t go out.
Ordering sides always helps a hospitality business. But if you see them on the menu, invisible chips are a particularly helpful thing to order.
Ordering this side means that you are directly helping people in the hospitality industry, through a light-hearted gesture with a serious impact.
You can find out more, here.
If it’s not an option on the menu, you could always leave a more generous tip (especially if your meal is discounted through the government promotion), or offer to buy the chef/waiter/barman a drink.
Imagine you run a small bistro. You’ve been closed for months, and finally, you’re allowed to reopen.
You spend all your time making your business safe – removing tables and adding in additional safety measures.
All the time you’re doing this, you’re taking pre-bookings. You quickly become full.
But when the night comes, 6 of your 20 covers don’t show up. You previously served 40 people, but tonight you’ve only had 14 people in.
Frustrating wouldn’t be the word. It is the reality for so many restaurants. In the past, this might have been off-set by walk-in customers, but not now.
If you book a table, turn up. If you can’t make it, cancel. As early as possible.
Some places might be taking deposits now. That makes some people irrationally angry. I can’t help thinking that if you’re the type of person who books and does turn up, it won’t be a problem.
Have you been somewhere amazing? Then tell people!
People are venturing out, and they want to know where to go. Recommendations are always well received, so why not inspire other people.
Here in West Cumbria, there are a few places on social media where you can share, or you could do it on Trip Advisor or other review sites. But please try to be fair.
Why not follow some local food bloggers and follow and share their recommendations? I’ll be sharing more reviews of places I’ve loved.
If you’ve not had a great experience, why not speak to your server or the owner, to give feedback. A negative review right now can really damage a place that might already be struggling. Times truly are hard.
On the same note, try to be reasonable. Kindness is appreciated and means a better experience for everyone.
Despite having fewer tables, a restaurant’s costs won’t be reduced by anywhere near the same amount – the rent or mortgage won’t be halved, nor will heating or staffing costs.
On top of that, wholesale prices have also increased, as suppliers look to ensure they’re covering their costs.
That means that the prices in your favourite establishment might have increased. I think that’s fair enough, you might not. If that’s the case, then make a note and move on to somewhere else.
But you probably don’t need to share it with the whole world.
Try other things
Necessity is the mother of invention, and the pandemic has proved that. Businesses near and far have launched delivery services, restaurants have launched cook at home options, and new businesses have sprung up to address gaps in the market.
Here in West Cumbria, the takeaway options available have never been better. We’ve feasted on ramen and sushi, dumplings; grazed on boxes of cheeses, charcuterie and other delights; and gorged on pizza from more locations than I care to count.
Have you got any other suggestions on how you could support the industry? Or any places you’d like to recommend. Let me know in the comments or on social media.