Manchester is back…! Well, not exactly as we know it, but this Saturday marks the return of Restaurants and Bars as they reopen for the first time since March as we entered lockdown.

Many of Manchester’s restaurants and bars will open, having worked hard to get themselves into a position to welcome customers back aligning to government health and safety guidelines.

While many will be out and about taking advantage at the weekend, it’s natural that some of us will be nervous about the re-opening and may wait to see how the re-opening plays out.

As a city, we are lucky to have so many great restaurants and bars, and we recently spoke to 3 of Manchester’s favourite venues to get their views on how they have dealt with the pandemic and how they are planning to respond. Through the piece, you’ll hear from Becky Wilkes, of 20 Stories, Josh Rogers of Rudy’s Peter St and Neil Lofthouse of Albert’s Schloss/Albert Hall.

How they’ve dealt with COVID-19?

Being prepared for something like this is almost impossible, so we asked the question, how have they dealt with COVID-19?

Neil who heads up Sales and Events for Albert Schloss / Albert Hall told us, “Complete closure of the industry resulted in 98% of our team placed on furlough. Throughout the lockdown we have worked hard to stay connected with our team through online chat sessions, masterclasses, virtual running clubs, dinner club, really anything to support our Mission Mars family. Behind the scenes, we were working hard on ways to adapt and connect with our guests. Our Pop-Up event during May was a huge success, and meant we could find ways to move forward and also helped raise £9,000 for Eat Well Manchester.”

After taking Peter Street by storm with their first 2 years of trading, and without doubt, flying the flag as the most popular pizza joint in town, Josh GM at Rudy’s told us, “Closing the doors due to COVID-19 was heart-breaking! We have launched our new chilled pizza range which we are now posting out nationwide! It has been extremely challenging but also extremely rewarding and the response so far has been incredible!”

It was a similar scenario for 20 Stories who had opened in Number 1 Spinningfields back in early 2018, and also there from the beginning was Becky, “In all honesty, hospitality is so fast-paced and extremely long hours so the thought of a break and a bit of ‘me time’ was greatly received at the start. However, for someone that usually works 60+ hour weeks, I became bored, very quickly. Being part of the Manchester Hospitality Network, I have worked hard lobbying campaigns to local MPs and the government for sharing tips and service charges (known as ‘Tronc’) to be included in Furlough and the Time Out Campaign, so that kept me occupied for a while. I’ve worked with local operators on webinars to discuss the ‘new normal’ when restaurants reopen to give guidance on licensing, capacities and general ‘what to expect’ discussions. It is so important for Manchester’s restaurants and bars to tackle this next step together and we really need the public to bear with us.”

What is the most challenging thing about COVID-19?

The challenges are clearly extensive and can threaten everything a business was built on if plans aren’t put in place to address such obstacles. We posed the question, what has been the most challenging thing about COVID-19?

Josh told us, “We made the decision to re-open during lockdown using Deliveroo to get the business going again and give the people of Manchester a much-needed Rudy’s fix during these difficult times! We have pushed ourselves to the limit with new exciting challenges that we have never done before.”

Becky’s view was, “The most challenging thing is not being able to do what you love every day, I have worked in hospitality for 17 years and it was swiped from under my feet (on my 30th birthday!!!). The next step that will be a huge challenge is relaunching restaurants with limited resources as a lot of staff have been made redundant. The public needs to realise that restaurants won’t be the same as what they once were, service will be slower, menus will be limited, the whole journey will feel a little different. I really hope they are patient in our return and know we are working as hard as we possibly can.”

Building on this Neil was clear for him that “the main challenge is to expect and adapt to a new normal. The complete closure of the industry put everyone on their knees, the only way to move forward and get back on our feet was to innovate and continue to deliver the ultimate experience in a new-found way.”

What does July 4th look like?

It’s set to be an exciting day when restaurants return, but it’s a day that needs to be navigated carefully. If we as a city come together to respect the guidelines set out we’ll collectively help our venues to ensure safety and success for all.

Becky said, “The demand for 4th July is insane, 20 Stories is already fully booked for the opening weekend. A lot of people are throwing the rules out of the window now, wanting bookings of up to 50 people which is insane, but we are following the government guidelines and only accepting bookings of 6 maximum. There are a lot of cheeky people asking, ‘can I book a table of 12 but sit on 2 different tables?’ but it isn’t that easy, the restaurant staff on the day will find it very difficult managing reservations if they start to merge on the day. People want to get out now, they want to be with their friends and family, but we need to remember, the virus is still very much present.”

Josh told us, “I think it’s going to be amazing. We are taking the safety of our guests and team very seriously – a lot of planning has gone into ensuring that the risk is low and people can still come to Rudy’s and have an amazing experience.”

Neil’s view is, “We have already had a great response with hundreds of tentative bookings and huge support from our guests. We have kept in touch with them through pop up events and take out, being able to speak with our guests and connect face to face has given people great confidence hearing our plans to keep people safe and provide the great experience people know and love!”

The future…

The next chapter begins on Saturday, but we asked the question, how does this all play out longer-term?

Becky told us, “I think we will bounce back and be operating at 100% by Christmas, should we not hit the second wave of COVID-19. There is definitely a demand and hunger (excuse the pun) for people to get to restaurants and bars, we just need to manage our bookings to ensure we are following the new guidelines and keep our staff and guests safe. I think hotels may come back at a slower rate because people may not be travelling as much but neighbourhood restaurants and bars with a local residential area will do very well. We just need to keep the momentum going so that business levels don’t drop off again.”

Neil commented, “It will be a slow and difficult journey to reach a new normal, however, I feel if we do our job by instilling confidence and deliver a great experience, we will all get back on our feet and be stronger and more united than ever.”

Josh finally said, “It’s tough times ahead for sure – but as long as we stick together I’m sure everyone will come through it just fine.”

Clearly nobody can predict when we’ll return to something like normal, but the clear message of sticking together by taking on board the guidance and respecting the venue policies will stand us all in good stead to get through this together, as one Manchester community!

We’d like to thank Becky, Josh and Neil for providing their views and wish them and every other Manchester-based venue all the best for this weekend as the vast majority return to do what they do best!