Food and drink will be back in Harrogate this weekend - just not quite in same way
Customers sitting down for their first pint in a pub this Saturday since lockdown - or tucking into a starter in a restaurant - will soon notice the new normal is different to the old one.
As the West Park Hotel-bar-restaurant in Harrogate is warning its customers in the run-up to ‘Super Saturday’ - “it’s going to be great seeing all your familiar faces once again but there will be a few changes to our normal service.”
In reality, the reopening of the hospitality sector will be something of a mixed bag rather than the big bang some people might have been hoping for.
Most popular places are set to welcome people back but there is no fixed pattern.
The rush to prepare to reopen in a safe way this Saturday has made it a busy week for traders, as they rearranged the tables and chairs or, even, applied a new lick of paint, to cater for customers in an era of social distancing with its knock-on effects for capacity.
Customers’ experiences may ultimately depend on which particular bar, cafe or restaurant they happen to choose as individual traders decide for themselves how to react to the Government’s general guidance.
Some bars, cafes and restaurants such as the Half Moon in Knaresborough or William & Vic’s restaurant in Harrogate and Fisk restaurant in Harrogate are insisting on advance bookings.
Others such as the Blues Bar or Three’s A Crowd bar in Harrogate may accept ‘walk-ins’.
Some like Sasso restaurant or Marconi Cafe in Harrogate or The Smiths Arms in Beckwithshaw are opening this weekend.
Others such as Baltzersen’s Coffee Shop and North Bar in Harrogate will reopen next week and, in the case of some such as The Little Ale House in Harrogate or The Tap on Tower Street, it may even be a number of weeks away.
Some have strict time limits, others don’t.
Some will be checking diners temperature on entry, others won’t.
The ‘new normal’ may be different but the buzz to embrace it is as real for businesses as it is for the public.
Simon Cotton, managing director of HRH Group which manages six hotels across Harrogate and York says his staff in Harrogate’s popular Fat Badger pub cannot wait to serve their first customer the first perfectly chilled, hand-pulled pint - if they’ve booked in advance!
Writing in the first of a regular series of columns for the Harrogate Advertiser, he says he’s confident the feel-good factor will return to the town centre and the hospitality sector upon which much of Harrogate’s prosperity depends.
Mr Cotton said: “Harrogate’s leading restauranteurs, cafe owners, hoteliers and publicans who have exactly the same mix of nerves and excitement as I do. They all want to do it right; make their customers smile, laugh, relax and forget their troubles; but all the time keeping everyone safe.”
Mr Cotton urged the public to enjoy themselves in a responsible manner.
He said: “If you are venturing out into Harrogate this weekend for your first post lockdown pint or celebratory meal, enjoy the moment. But choose somewhere you know and trust to do the right thing, be ready with your phones to scan a QR code for a menu rather than hold one, expect that there may be a wait for your next pint and that you’ll probably need a table before ordering; and that that table will most certainly be disinfected within an inch of its life before you can sit down, but, remember, it will be worth it.”
Recent days have seen Harrogate Borough Council liaising with North Yorkshire County Council and the highways authority, in an effort to relax the rules for bars, cafes and restaurants to use pavements and, perhaps, roads, to create extra space to increase the numbers of customers they can handle within the rules of social distancing.
One sign that ‘Super Saturday’ has, indeed, been a success will be if the crowds return to one Harrogate bar facing Harrogate Convention Centre which has always been forward looking.
Jim Mossman, co-founder of Cold Bath Brewing Co, said: “We are working with the local authorities to look at how we can move forward with pedestrianised zones compatible for food and drink businesses.
“We want to create a cosmopolitan and European-style zone where we can affect our trade and be transformational in terms of saving jobs and businesses.”
Whether that idea comes to fruition is, like much of the ‘new normal’, still up in the air.
Simon Cotton says being hospitable will be essential in the days and weeks to come.
“This weekend the beer will taste that little bit more special and the food will no doubt feel like its melting in your mouth. But please, can I ask a little favour on behalf of the hospitality industry; be patient with us for the first few days as we get used to the new way of working.”
There is little doubting that such patience will be needed.