The Fresser

Give me the worst table in the house

Why, in the new normal, I want to be sitting somewhere entirely different than I did pre-pandemic

August 26, 2020 14:49
How often are you led to a restaurant table and your heart sinks? Too near the toilets? Stuck in a corner? Got your back to the room? Or just not where you want to be?
All deal breakers, to my late (great) father. Whenever he took us out to eat, my brother and I could expect to play musical chairs at least once. 
And I fear some (all) of his requirements have rubbed off on me. And worse, overflowed into high expectations on the hotel room front too. My poor husband was forced to trail around our honeymoon hotel for an afternoon while I satisfied myself we had the best room. 
But the qualities of a ‘best’ table are not what they were. 
On my recent staycation on the West Sussex/Hampshire border, we ate out several times. I hadn’t eaten in a restaurant since March, and was (understandably) nervous. But a holiday spent cooking every day is no break, and my mother and step-father (staying with us) were keen to treat us to a few meals. So we took the plunge. 
Which leads me to my changed checklist.  Once upon a time picking a place to eat was all about the food. And once there - finding a table with a view was top priority - restaurant eating should be a communal experience.
A world pandemic tends to change your perspective. 
After our extended restaurant fast, a major consideration now is keeping that virus at bay. 
Top of thewishlist is an al fresco seat – no longer a ‘nice to have’ but a ‘must have’; and initially, the only place I’d consider an meal out.
And if I’m going to go inside, I want my hosts to play by the guidelines. With zero tolerance. 
Take my temperature.  Take my details.  Hand me the sanitiser – even better have some on my table. Make sure your tables are sufficiently set apart from one another. And even better, give your staff masks. 
I know this is tough for restaurateurs,and it will be hard to balance the books, but what choice is there? 
We've had varying experiences - a first outing was to chain restaurant, Bill’s, who were exemplary. All boxes ticked. I’ve eaten at two of them now and both stuck to the brief. 
Meal two was at  an upmarket gastropub. They also followed the guidelines to the letter, even instituting a one-way system to avoid too-cosy crossings in corridors with fellow diners on the way to the bathrooms. Their staff were visored up. We were led to a table (in an alcove) which Daddy dearest would most definitely have eschewed. Too hidden away and no view – except of each other. In the new normal, it was spot on. 
Meal three was at a restaurant chosen for its outdoor deck area. Arriving at 1.30pm the deck was full but also could not accommodate a table of six. Not at a social distance. Our allocated table was at the back of the room. Far from any other table. I instinctively asked for something with a view, but they could not fit six of us near a window. Not safely. Walking back to our corner of the room, the silver lining occurred to me. We were safer there than crammed onto the terrace.
Their registration policy was non-existent and no sign of sanitiser. Cutlery was on the table - where it could catch any passing germs - but by now maybe I was getting slightly blasé. It seems that with every meal out, the more normal it feels, and the less cautious we become. 
I’m more comfortable going into restaurants now than I was a few weeks ago, but still nervous of booking somewhere with no idea if they’re sticking to the rules. 
I took pot luck last night, in Hampstead. We’d booked an early meal at The Old Bull and Bush. Once upon a time I’d have had a good old moan about the table – stuck up on a mezzanine, a bit dark and shabby. But we were far from everyone else. No one passing.
And all they ticked all my safety boxes: masked staff; track and trace check-in; sanitiser on the door - if not on the tables. Cutlery arrived with the food and menus were disposable and NOT reused for the next diner. Double thumbs up.  Plus the food was good too!
August 26, 2020 14:49

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