It’s no surprise that Team Cracked were up for a challenge, especially as it involved eating our favourite meals at our favourite places! Knowing that things would be different and wanting new perspectives on the state of the industry, Claire (our fabulously foodie MD) challenged us to review our very first experiences dining out after the government relaxed lockdown rules and introduced the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme. Here’s what we thought, featuring real Team Cracked opinions.

  • The eating-out experience.

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of eating somewhere we love with the people we love, so we were all craving a return to a true restaurant or bar experience. This renewed appetite for dining out reminded us how much we’d taken it for granted; a lively ambiance, beautiful dishes, freshly shaken ice-cold cocktails — the whole package. Needless to say, we were curious about how eating-out as we once knew it had changed.

All of us were met by different experiences — ‘deliver-to-table’ ordering via QR code or app, disposable menus and PPE-clad staff. Pubs that were once strictly ‘order at the bar’ had to adjust to offering table service, where we naturally observed obvious pinch points in service while the teams navigated the adjustments. But given all these changes to operations, it looks like conventional table service might actually be morphing into a safer version of days gone by and we’re excited to see how it evolves into a more streamlined version in the months to come. For Becca at least, the changes were definitely welcome…

“My first experience was just as good as the traditional one. There were less tables and more precautionary sanitising measures, and socially distanced service — it was just as enjoyable as it has always been.“ — Becca, Client Services.

  • Kids welcome!

Eating out for Zoe was always likely to involve her young children, Florence and Harrison, so making her first restaurant booking was done with an air of caution. How would it be with the kids? Could they be trusted to sit down at a table for whole the evening? Nevertheless she took the plunge and booked a table in the local pub’s garden. On arrival, the pub owners explained what she could expect; hand sanitising stations, limited and disposable menus, ordering via smartphone app, a one-way system, and children only leaving the table for the toilet — all pretty straightforward — and it went a long way in reassuring the family that they were safe.

“I think I underestimated how much my children understood of the times we’re in, and actually it was nice for them to do something we would’ve regularly done pre-Covid.” — Zoe, Client Services.

In other child-friendly places like Pizza Express, Claire noted that the popular ‘kid’s packs’ had been replaced with an app that gave them access to games such as a ‘Find the Ingredients’ wordsearch and the ‘Piccolo Orchestra’ where kids can create their own symphony. All of which made the unfamiliarity of the new restaurant experience much more enjoyable for the little ones.

  • Building confidence — pub by pub.

One of the things that jumped out to Nicole was just how many factors impacted her venue choice. For example, rather than judging a place on how busy or inviting the atmosphere seemed, she found herself deciding to choose somewhere to eat based on how quiet and how on top of social distancing and cleanliness they were. So far, she’s had nothing but positive experiences — although she’s yet to take the leap and sit inside. For Nicole, it’s all about laying the foundations of confidence before experiencing the full version of the new normal. 

“Seeing my favourite spot playing by the rules gave me the confidence to sit down and enjoy a couple of drinks outside, something I have missed so much during lockdown. After visiting this first pub I was far more confident to visit other cafes and pubs to sit outside.” — Nicole, Creative Design.

Some of us craved the buzz of being in the thick of it, but not at the expense of our safety, so clear and reassuring communications around social distancing and hygiene practices from the restaurant or pub were an absolute must when it came to choosing where we visited.

  • Staying local.

Lucy found it a real struggle to go without her high street’s cafés and bars during lockdown, and found herself worrying about which businesses would survive. So naturally she was chomping at the bit to get back out for a meal and support her local restaurants, especially with the introduction of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme. It was a clear incentive for her to visit all her favourite local spots and feel like she could contribute to the community after so much uncertainty.

“I think most of us have kept things local, which means we’ve been relying less on taxis and haven’t had to worry about having kids in tow. I’ve favoured ease and convenience of location over the desire to head out and try new places further afield just because it’s been easier to.” — Claire, Owner.

This is the time for local pubs and restaurants to respond to this shift in consumer behaviour and celebrate being local, whether that’s through offering discounts to those living in the area or simply remaining open to become the easy choice!

  • Safety first!

A few of us at Cracked felt that maintaining social distancing was awkward in the confined spaces of pubs, bars and restaurants — but we all managed it. Some of our visits even included a minute’s briefing of all their safety procedures, for example dedicated cleaners, easy access to hand sanitising points, and plastic screens at the bar and on tables to reduce proximity between customers.

The safety measures we saw varied from place to place — sometimes from one visit to another. We think this is something we’ll all have to factor into the new eating-out experience in that some restaurants will do safety and hygiene differently to others. We should all come to expect these slightly different approaches, but one thing’s clear: as long as they’re well communicated, we’re happy.

Those of us jumping back into the new normal head-first were genuinely relieved to find that our favourite spots had fully embraced new hygiene measures — so any of us who were slightly more reserved about dining out again were able to ease back in without worry.

How was your first experience eating out again after lockdown and what, if anything, do you think could’ve been done better?

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