Thinking OUTSIDE the box

How 'HORECA' businesses can increase capacity while keeping everyone COVID-safe

Outside dining tables and chairs

Well, trying times indeed. We had planned that this blog would be an inspirational one, looking in more detail at the kinds of things re-opening hospitality and leisure businesses can do to maximise their turnover within safe limits by making the most of any outdoor spaces they have access to.

From this week, of course, diners will benefit from a 50 per cent discount (capped at £10) on eat-in meals at restaurants and pubs across the UK, as part of the Government’s ‘Eat out to help out’ scheme, which represents a golden opportunity for outlets to build their business back up.

We’ve decided to plough on with our blog in order to help as many outlets as we can, but  with a slightly heavier heart, given the Government’s recent announcement of further lockdowns in parts of West Yorkshire, East Lancashire, Manchester and Aberdeen, which means many will have their plans stalled for the foreseeable future.

We really feel for businesses within the newly-restricted zones and it’s clear that the whole country has some way to go in terms of finding a ‘new normal’ way of doing things amidst the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic which looks set to hang around for some time yet, and that safe measures and responsible behaviour on the part of both individuals and businesses is absolutely paramount. We are here for any businesses that need an experienced guide to help them ensure they are ‘COVID-secure’, no matter what circumstances they find themselves in, and you will find more details of the advice and support we offer here.

The great outdoors – some positive inspiration

However, it’s important to remember that it’s not all doom and gloom and below we’ll share some suggestions those ‘HORECA’ (the term used for hospitality, catering and leisure) businesses that are able to remain open for the time being, can do to support their commercial success in a safe way for all concerned.

We work closely with a number of hospitality businesses throughout Yorkshire that are taking their first tentative steps when it comes to being back in business. And if there’s one thing we’re hearing from them, again and again, it’s the concern over capacity. Admirably, these outlets are all seeking to do the right thing, with our help: ensuring social distancing of at least one metre and two where possible; one-way systems; disposable condiments and hygienically-packaged individual cutlery; new washroom regimes and table-only service. However, almost without exception, they are becoming increasingly concerned about how many customers this allows them to serve, compared to their usual levels. Some, sadly, just don’t have enough indoor space for re-opening to be viable with such a raft of necessary restrictions.

Our advice to anyone in that camp? Look through your windows and think creatively about the space that lies beyond them and what you can do with it. We’re having a reasonable summer, which is warm enough – for once – to turn to the outdoors. It’s also not proving to be too wet, touch wood. So, while it lasts, why not grasp the chance to take your service outdoors as well as in, and potentially double or even triple the number of customers you’re able to accept? Not only that, but many of our clients are telling us that their customers appreciate the opportunity to eat or drink out in the open, as they know it’s considered safer when it comes to COVID-19 transmission. Therefore, you’ll be helping them by helping yourself.

But how can we do that?

… Is, we anticipate, the question you might be asking about that right now. Well, our pub, restaurant and other catering clients that have embraced this idea have amazed us with their ingenuity, so we thought we’d share some of their ideas. We’ve seen them take their tables out to pavement areas, car parks and even outhouses and sheds, to create quirky new fresh air and segregated dining experiences that are enjoyable and fun as well as being safer.

They’re typically finding local authorities much more accommodating when it comes to licences for operating outdoors, too, as they understand how vital the hospitality businesses in their area are to their local economies. So, if you’ve got an idea for what you’d like to do but are not sure if you’ll be allowed, it’s certainly worth contacting your local council to ask the question. Even if you’ve had plans knocked back in the past, you might find them more accommodating than you think, so do give it a try.

Keeping it special

That hurdle aside, you might also be wondering how on earth you can make your new car park or kerbside dining experience special. After all, you’ve no doubt spent many months intricately planning the styling and ambiance of your interior space and re-creating this outside might seem like both an impossible task and added labour and cost you could really do without right now.

However, try to turn this kind of thinking on its head – and at the opportunity this could represent, rather than the problem. Because what we’ve also seen is some of our HORECA clients not only build back up to normal levels of trade despite current challenges, but even exceed them and add profitable new arms to their businesses which can remain in place for the long term.

In terms of taking the buzz and magic of your business into the open air, we can help with that too. We’re finding that our suppliers are coming up trumps with lots of attractive options – from unbreakable ‘crockery’ and glass options to environmentally-friendly, disposable utensils. Taking up some of these options might not create a mirror image of what’s going on in your indoor space, but it could help you achieve a complementary look and feel which is just as enjoyable in its own right. Part of our role is to research the latest product developments and innovations so that we can help our clients identify the most suitable and cost-effective options for them. We’re members of lots of trade associations and supply networks, and we put the legwork in so that you don’t have to, whittling down an immense array of product options into a manageable shortlist to suit you. With that in mind, here are five suggestions to give you some food for thought:

  1. Melamine is a fantastic material, we’ve been working with our suppliers to offer a range of tasteful and attractive options for outdoor cups, plates and serving dishes, in various colours and styles. Popular even under normal circumstances, these items can help you limit the chance of wasteful breakages while still offering your customers a professional dining experience with the wow factor. And these items are so attractive and authentic-looking, your customers won’t even realise they’re not the real thing, until they touch them and realise the difference in weight
  2. In a similar vein, you don’t really want to be serving drinks in expensive glasses that are more likely to get broken outside. You might shiver at the thought of the kind of low-rent plastic glasses you’ve no doubt been offered when out and about yourself, and be loathe to start using them in your business. And, while disposable plastic cups have their place for some dining options, including take-aways, you’d be right when it comes to creating the right ambiance for a sit-down meal. However, the good news is that there are lots of high-quality options available these days for glassware that isn’t, made from polycarbonate and available in the form of cocktail, gin and wine glasses, and champagne flutes, which are just as tasteful as the options you offer indoors and can be washed and re-used time and time again
  3. Notwithstanding the COVID risk there are, as we all know, additional challenges to dining ‘al fresco’, not least the increased exposure to bugs, flies and dust which can contaminate surfaces and food if you’re not careful. To counteract this problem, there are options such as covered glassware with lids and individual wrapped cutlery packs which protect such items and their contents from the elements
  4. Similarly, you don’t want to use shared condiment bottles which will potentially transfer germs from one person to the next, and can also attract ants, wasps and flies if left outside. We can help you source individual, disposable servings of salts, vinegars and sauces to change the way you offer these items and avoid potential problems.
  5. And for that added flourish to enhance your table experience, we can also help with sourcing serving platters, tiered stands for items being shared by guests at individual tables and foldable side-tables and wine coolers, which will further help you extend your inside experience, outside.

Of course, the UK weather is never all that reliable, and you might need to think outside the box in terms of any hardware you need to seat guests in your outdoor space comfortably. This could range from a marquee or gazebo through to weatherproof tables, wipeable table cloths; comfortable, practical seating; heaters and items of decor.

It’s important to apply the same, extra-cautious hygiene procedures outside as well as in, too. This means that you’ll need to ensure you have sufficient, highly-visible, handwash or sanitisation stations for the additional customers you can accommodate to use, as well as prominent hygiene routines. And you’ll need to apply clear rules around social distancing, helped by things like clear signage, as there’s no room for complacency even though they’ll be outside. Our other recent blog goes through the kinds of generic, COVID-secure things you’ll need to be think about.

If any of the above sounds like something you might need, take a look at our latest product brochure highlighting some of the options that are out there. Or, for a chat to discuss your individual requirements so that we can help you come up with a bespoke solution, please call us on 01482 327580 or email us.







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