On the morning the new hospitality curfew restrictions began, I piously sipped my morning celery juice at a healthy café. “Would you like a little shot of margarita with that?” was not what I was expecting to hear next but, as the manageress explained, they are now making cocktails too. Hey, everything else is weird, why not a little pre-brecko tequila? As the door shuts on day time service of wholesome snacks and green drinks, they carry on their 20-hour day: with delivery drivers tasked with taking litres of fresh juice cocktails direct to people’s doors until 2am, in a bid to boost months of lost business. In the age of corona, the fun can keep coming – it’s just a little different.
The curfew will change our ability to socialise, again. “Businesses selling food or drink” from bingo halls and old-fashioned boozers to bowling alleys and Michelin starred restaurants “must be closed between 10pm and 5am”, and in “licensed premises, food and drink must be ordered from, and served at, a table”. We will have to use the track and trace QR codes and face masks are to be worn by pretty much everyone. Going out is looking a tad grim.
While the hospitality industry waits for the worst to happen – again – among us punters the mood is more one of defiance than fear. People seem determined to have a good time, no matter how early the Government want us off to our beds.
With imaginative offerings from hospitality, a warm welcome in a well-ventilated home and a coat more suited to polar exploration than the usual British winter, we can still enjoy a rich and varied social life. We are going to need it if we are to keep spirits up. My sister-in-law’s response was for us to put together six-person micro-parties so that we could dance off the stresses of strange days. Instead of drearily saying I’d bring cheese, as usual, I said: “Not to worry, I’ve got the margaritas covered.”
The new autumn 2020 social rules
1. Tea and the long, boozy lunch
The only way to get a long leisurely meal under your belt is to reclaim the moribund tradition of the big lunch, or, to start eating dinner at an hour previously owned by the working class man returning home for tea at 5pm after a hard day of labour. Many restaurants, like Soho’s Noble Rot, are opening earlier to accommodate this. Co-owner, Mark Andrew tells me, “If you book a table at eight, there’ll be no lingering over that last glass of Burgundy. If people want to luxuriate in eating out the emphasis will have to shift to the old style long louche lunch, or an early big night. A long Friday lunch is the new Saturday night.”
2. Post-dinner flicks
Theatres and cinemas are exempt from the new 10pm curfew, making trips to the cinema and what little theatre we have left, the only way to legally enjoy a night out after the state mandated bedtime.
3. All back to mine, redux
Back in the Eighties and Nineties, ‘all back to mine’ was bellowed by anyone crazy enough to invite all the spangled mass in the club back to their house for a carry on session after the club closed at dawn. Today, ‘all back to mine’ applies to anyone who doesn’t want to say goodbye at 10pm. This once meant a few cans of warm lager from the iffy all-hours off licence in town and a kebab on the bus, now an after-pub carry on can endure via Deliveroo (which has taken on 11,500 new restaurants and 16 new grocery partnerships since March), Uber Eats and the upmarket, Supper London. If you get your order in, Deliveroo can get your nibbles and booze from Waitrose et al before 10pm as well.
4. Takeaway tipples
With fines threatened to those who refuse to exit the premises at 10pm on the dot, many bars and restaurants have devised off-site ways to continue the fun. “We have been working out how to make such an abrupt end to the night elegant,” says Juan Santa Cruz, who has three London restaurants, “so we send people home with some cocktails, wine, a few little snacks if they want it.” Elsewhere, bartenders are able to come to your home for gatherings of five.
5. Warm coats and bobble hats party
With instructions to keep the windows open and let air circulate as much as possible if we can’t socialise outside, never has the need been greater, even indoors, for a cosy and chic bobble hat and a decent "big coat". Fingerless mittens are best for eating, drinking and warding off frostbite while leather gloves are best for a firm grip on glasses. As long as it's not a licensed premises there’s no curfew for mulled wine and hot toddies round the bonfire.
6. Speak up dear
Face coverings are mandatory now practically everywhere and everyone must take diction classes. At dinner recently a charming waiter sounded like a muffled station Tannoy. Forget elocution: if you want to socialise this winter, you need strong diction. We all need to learn to protect our voice beyond the mask.
7. Keep it non-controversial
As if we needed another thing to argue about, the new Brexit barney is controversial corona chat. No dinner, no matter how perfectly planned, will weather an argument between the lockdown hard crew (who probably won’t socialise unless it’s across two metres in the garden anyway) and the self-appointed herd immunity "resistance". Best to avoid mixing two as angry shouting is an especially efficient means of aerosol transmission of Covid-19.
8. Wine online
Tom Harrow, founder of Honest Grapes, Decanter’s Outstanding Wine Retailer of the Year, has been astonished by the popularity of his Zoom tastings for colleagues and friends who gather around the computer with the same glass of wine for tutored tastings. If you’re sick of Zoom, this will be no comfort
9. Lunch 2.0
In Brazil if you ask someone for lunch at two, it’s not for lunch – it’s more of a party, which won’t end til suppertime. Expect more of this, with lively lunching at the weekends that might include slightly louder music or DJs, bottomless cocktails and long sittings from midday til four. As seasoned socialisers will tell you, there is a huge benefit to finishing up early. It’s better for work, and better for health, better for sleep. Somehow the hangover fairies don’t visit those early up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire. Perhaps Boris had that in mind when he invented our new sensible bedtime.
10. Kitchen discos
With nightclubbing out of the question, and music in pubs barely allowed above the sound of a whisper, the kitchen disco will be about the only place you can get all the Covid frustration out of your system.
11. Tiny resistance rave-ups
The Government website says “significant standalone life events will be subject to the ‘rule of six’ limits”. With an ever larger demand for herd immunity and shielding the vulnerable, we predict a rise in illegal gatherings in the shires and more remote parts of the UK beyond the sight of nosy parkers and yellow tabarded marshals. By this we mean not 500 kids raving in a field, more, seven or so adults gathering for nibbles, gins and a couple of Rolling Stones albums round a bonfire.