Of all the Government’s measures in response to the Covid-19 crisis, from the fiscal to the epidemiological, perhaps none has been received with as much ire as the 10pm curfew, introduced on September 24.
From a financial viewpoint, a lost hour of trade during what is often peak time (especially on weekends) will cost pubs and restaurants dearly, not least because last orders must be brought forward even earlier to ensure the guests are paid up by curfew.
Then there’s the issue of releasing everyone from pubs, restaurants and bars onto the streets at the same time, like a tightly-packed shoal of sardines. Cue heaving public transport, a dearth of taxis, and, in busy city-centres, impromptu street parties – not exactly Covid-secure.
For hospitality business owners, most of whom have spent the past few months doing all they can to ensure their sites are safe as possible, the curfew is a kick in the teeth. Customers, too, are perplexed. Alex Claridge, founder and head chef at The Wilderness in Birmingham, says that while most people are broadly forgiving of the majority of coronavirus-related measures, “universally, guests can’t understand the curfew.”
The Wilderness usually serves a multi-course, two-and-a-half-hour fine-dining menu; it's the sort of place diners go to enjoy the evening at a leisurely pace. With the restaurant already operating with fewer covers due to social distancing, it can now only take 18 covers per service (pre-curfew it was 20, pre-pandemic 26).
To mitigate this loss, Claridge surveyed guests for their opinion on altering opening hours and meal structures. One option was a condensed version of the menu, with six courses instead of 10, over a 90-minute sitting. “No one’s going for it,” says Claridge. One change that might be popular, however, is opening for lunch on Sundays. Previously, the restaurant operated between Wednesday and Saturday; now, it’s Tuesday to Sunday. The first Sunday lunch is fully booked, and should it go well, Claridge is considering bringing it in full time, which will require the hiring of new staff.
It’s not the only change being made in response to the 10pm curfew. Up and down the country, restaurants are adapting by modifying opening hours, condensing menus, offering specials, or even take-home desserts. Here’s what’s happening across Britain.
Extending the Eat Out to Help Out offer
Simone Remoli, the founder of Pasta Remoli restaurants in London, admits that, as a fresh pasta spot with quick dishes and fast-casual service, the dwell time at his restaurants is considerably lower than in many other places. Nevertheless, there is a fear that the curfew could impact on consumer confidence (some restaurant owners have reported a surge in cancellations), so Pasta Remoli is offering an extension of August’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme until the end of October, in the hope it will entice guests back in. Seafood dishes are excluded, but the discount otherwise remains the same, funded by the restaurant itself rather than the government.
Opening on an extra day
Darby’s, located beside the US embassy in Nine Elms, London, was one of 2019’s hottest restaurant openings. The Irish-New-York-inspired restaurant has added an extra day (Tuesday) to its opening hours “for two reasons,” explains general manager Emma Underwood. “To make sure the team had enough hours, and to try and increase our covers throughout the week.”
Drinks for the road
Townsend, a wine bar-café-restaurant in the Whitechapel Gallery in London's East End, is ending reservations at 8.30pm, but that doesn’t mean the fun stops there. Anyone booked in for dinner will be offered one for the road, with bottles of wine sold at shop prices – for £10, guests will be able to take home a bottle chosen by director Nick Gilkinson, based on what’s on the seasonal menu.
At the Coach & Horses gastropub in Rillington, North Yorkshire, roughly a quarter of takings are made after 10pm. “We’ll be doing all we can to keep the revenue rolling in,” says owner Chris Kent. With the last sitting for dinner now at 8pm, Kent is hoping there will be interest in “finishing your night at home.” Once the last-orders bell has run at 9.30pm, takeaway beers and wines will be offered in sealed containers.
New lunchtime hours
Saffron Circle, an Indian restaurant on Finchley Road in London, first opened in December 2019 and had barely got going when lockdown hit. It reopened in June for takeaway, and since July has offered dinner. Yet with covers down due to the curfew, the restaurant is broadening out by offering lunch, too, on weekends.
Managing director Satish Kumar believes his daytime thalis will be the best way to showcase a wide range of dishes. “It is a great way to try a little bit of our most popular dishes and we hope that it draws new diners who have not had an opportunity to try our food yet,” says Kumar.
Cutting covers is especially tough for diminutive restaurants like Edinburgh’s The Little Chartroom. “With social distancing in place, we only have four tables, and we have to be fully booked for every service and do three sittings a night to make it work,” explains head chef Roberta Hall-McCarron. The curfew means a whole sitting has been lost. She is opening the restaurant for an extra service on Saturday lunchtime.
Customers at the much-loved 12:51 in Angel, north London, are being incentivised to continue eating out at the restaurant during the post-curfew period with an extension of the restaurant’s BYOB offer, available between Tuesdays and Thursdays in October. Guests can bring whatever drinks they want to match the five-course tasting menu, which includes kid goat faggots, wild mushrooms with chicken fat and, at a supplementary cost, chef James Cochran’s famous buttermilk fried chicken. Additionally, those who tag a friend on the restaurant’s Instagram page and make a booking will get a free glass of champagne on arrival.
At Darby's, reduced price 'express menus' have been introduced both to attract more business and to enable the kitchen and front of house staff to work more efficiently. Dinner is now available from 5pm, in a bid to mitigate lost footfall after 10pm. “It’s a big ask to expect guests to change their dining habits," Underwood admits, "but we’re lucky to be in a residential area full of guests that drop in at all hours, so we are feeling confident.”
At chef Anna Haugh’s Myrtle Restaurant in Chelsea, the leisurely a la carte or seven-course tasting menu is unfeasible for late bookings, so Haugh has decided to introduce a new '9 o’clock menu'. The Myrtle Experience will be condensed into a quick five-course tour. There’ll be martinis, treacle soda bread, black pudding wrapped in Irish potatoes with braeburn apple purée (a signature dish), and oat-crusted hake.
A multi-course menu was launched on Yorkshire Day, on August 1, at Samuel's Restaurant, a fine dining spot in the Swinton Estate in North Yorkshire. It was intended as a “homage to all things Yorkshire and foraged or farmed from our estate or walled garden,” says food and beverage manager Reece Howard, but the tasting menu takes two hours, which would only allow customers to arrive between 7-8pm in order to experience it in full. “Those at 8pm would be clock watching in case they’re slow eaters,” says Howard. From October 12 the tasting menu will be shelved in favour of a la carte, which Howard thinks will disappoint customers but will be an improvement on the current curfew conditions which are leading to rushing guests, coffee orders before desserts and ushering people out “as they put their knives and forks down.”
At Heaneys Cardiff, its traditionally lengthy dining experience (which lasts 14 courses), has been modified into an optional 'short' menu of 10 dishes. Expect the likes of sea bass with lobster and barbecued lamb with blueberry, yeast cauliflower and back garlic. Additionally, there is now the option of a four-course menu in the evenings, in order to allow for speedier dining.
Meanwhile at Benedicts in Norwich, the introduction of a special 'curfew menu' means the standard five-course offering has been pared back to three courses with extra bread and snacks, for all 8.15-8.45pm reservations, in order to ensure customers have finished by 10pm.
Treats to take home
Guests at Myrtle will also be given Irish buttered fudge to take home after the curfew, and house-crafted teabags, to enjoy after dinner evening or the next morning. A take-home treat is on the cards, too, at WOOD Manchester, Simon Wood’s eponymous restaurant. His lengthy 10-course tasting menu isn't possible for later bookings, so a 'Wood for the Road' offering is available. For £25, two customers will receive a taste of three cheeses (expect the likes of Ticklemore goats, Yorkshire pecorino fresco, Inglewhite buffalo or Godminster cheddar), as well as crackers and a bottle of wine. "The take-out cheese is going well," says Wood. "People just want to get home before the 10pm madness starts."
Bigger beer gardens
In an extra bid to make up for lost income, the car park at Rillington's Coach & Horses has been turned into a beer garden, with a heated marquee. “It’s not unrealistic to assume the latest measures will make people a little nervous about coming out again,” says Kent. “But being a countryside pub we’re very fortunate to have a great set of locals who have been super supportive over this whole period.”
As well as his on-the-road options, Simon Wood is cooking a five-course tasting menu that can be delivered across Manchester on Fridays and Saturdays. Expect dishes such as salt-baked celeriac, Cornish crab and osso bucco ragu to be part of the 'Wood at Home' offering.
Benedict's head chef Richard Bainbridge has decided to ramp up his 'Dine At Home' offering, which is now available throughout Norfolk. The menu features a three-course meal with simple instructions to finish off the cooking.