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The new eating out

When was the last time you ate out? If you’re still lingering in lockdown, you can only imagine that the restaurant world, like every other part of our out-and-about world, has changed quite a bit since March. Read on, says Melissa Blease, about what to expect, how to behave – and how it will feel to be back at somebody else’s table other than your own.

Follow the rules 

One-way systems, far fewer tables, disposable napkins, condiments in sachets and the gentle waft of hand sanitiser floating on the breeze – whether you visit a fast food joint or a very fine diner, a handful of subtle (and not-so-subtle) changes dominate the eating out landscape. 

You may be asked to provide your full contact details on arrival/booking, place your order online in advance of your reservation, or order via a phone app once seated at your table – and, once you’re seated at that table, you’ll be asked to remain in situ rather than skip over to the bar or take a ‘fresh air’ break. 

Most businesses are taking card payments only, and statements offering full, clear guidelines regarding exactly how any given business is fully complying with government guidance on managing the risk of Covid-19 will be writ large, at every turn. 

But if this all feels a bit too overwhelming or the ‘rules’ sound like too much hard work to take in, think again: the restaurant has already done all the hard work for you; all you have to do in return for making a safe return is do as you’re asked, and enjoy being back. And please…

Be kind!

New systems, ever-changing rules and regulations, glitches in the supply chain and lots of questions to be asked and answered will inevitably lead to the occasional service glitch. So be patient, be gracious, and chill out – we’ve all been through (and are still going through) unprecedented times; impatience, frustration and rudeness are all off the menu for good.

Say No to the no-shows

For years now, restaurants have been blighted by the ‘no show’ brigade: people who make reservations but simply fail to show up on the day/night in question. There’s even solid proof that a growing group of diners book several restaurants for one particular evening then decide on their final destination when the time comes, playing a form of Restaurant Roulette – such selfish, dastardly behaviour ends right here, right now.

With space and footfall limited and so many restaurant owners struggling to make ends meet under extremely difficult circumstances, the devastating effect that this thoughtless behaviour has on many small, independent businesses has more impact than ever before. So! Leave your credit card details when making that all-important booking, and don’t be offended if you’re asked to pay a deposit (which will be deducted from your bill) that allows the restaurant to recoup at least part of their costs if you fail to turn up without letting them know you’ve changed your plans at least 24 hours in advance. Booking no-shows? We say No Way.

Eat Out to Help Out 

The Eat Out to Help Out scheme operates every Monday to Wednesday from 3 August. Participating restaurants/food establishments will offer customers a 50% discount on food or soft drinks (up to a maximum of £10 per person) and the full cost of the reduction will be paid to the restaurant by the government on your behalf. The scheme doesn’t last forever (it ends at the end of August), but you can use it as many times as you like. Fish and chips on a Tuesday evening? A £20 dish for a tenner on a Monday? A posh coffee-to-go for 75p? Go forth and help out! FFI: gov.uk/guidance/get-a-discount-with-the-eat-out-to-help-out-scheme

VAT and all that

Halfway through July of this year, restaurants, pubs and cafés were given a temporary VAT reduction that sliced 15% off their usual 20% VAT bill. But please, don’t expect the reduction to be passed on to you, the customer – it’s intended to be a government bonus designed to support the hospitality industry in recovery. If a business has chosen to pass the discount on to their customers (which some have chosen to do), that’s very generous of them; in this instance, though, many diners have voluntarily elected be kind in return, and put the 15% back on their bills of their own accord. 

Take an independent approach

The independent restaurants, cafés and bars that we all love so much provide jobs for local people, support other local suppliers, producers and businesses and offer vital community cornerstones that makes Bath so unique. Unlike the big chains that dominate our high streets, independent businesses don’t have the cushion of big buck investors to fall back on when times are hard – and right now, times are really hard. So please, use our beloved indies as often as you can… because we really don’t want to lose them, do we? 

Still staying put?

If you’re shielding or just not in the mood for getting out and about yet, max out on a takeaway/doorstep delivery. From fish suppers to five-course gourmet tasting menus by way of burger blow-outs, exotic ‘meal kits’ and gourmet heat’n’eat ready meals, it’s all going on; keep an eye on the websites of your favourite restaurants, takeaways and delis to see who’s doing what. 

What’s changed since you last played out?

Homewood’s brand new Olio terrace and pizzeria overlooks the hotel, spa and restaurant’s magnificent, manicured, mesmerising gardens – if you’re looking for a reason to go (tastefully!) wild in the country, this is it! Bear in mind that the glorious restaurant and stylish bars are open too. 

The Bath Pizza Co have fired up their ovens again in Green Park Station from 12 noon to 8pm every Wednesday to Sunday, while the mothership that is the Green Park Brasserie is back with a live music bang too (albeit at a lower volume than usual and no brass instruments or singers for the time being).

The Hare and Hounds has opened a brand new, spacious outside bar (including a covered, weather-proof area) in their glorious split-level garden, offering a full drinks selection and a selection of perfect pizzas. You don’t have to go through the pub in order to access the alfresco area if you don’t want to, and outside loos are available too.

Bath’s only authentic Nepalese bistro Yak Yeti Yak has reopened its doors and unveiled a transformation that includes a collection of bespoke, handmade screens between tables that make social distancing a uniquely beautiful experience.

The Bath Priory has a brand new Executive Chef! Juaca Catalin joined the BP fold during lockdown in April and has since spent his time working on brand new menus to be launched when the hotel opens its doors again later on in the year.

The Thai Hut (Green Park Station) now offers an e-bike home delivery service. Menus are uploaded to the website by 11am daily, the minimum order is £15 (plus £4 delivery) and all dishes are ideal for reheating, while the curries freeze especially well. Fancy getting all Thai-up too? Call or text your order to 07738 383241 between 12.15–3pm Wednesday to Saturday.  facebook.com/thaihutbath

Chez Dominique – the place to go for that all-important taste of a Parisian bistro, in Bath – has reopened and unveiled a spiffing fixe prix menu, just £20 for 2-courses, £24 for 3.

The Royal Crescent Hotel has designed an utterly beautiful Poems in the Garden trail in their utterly beautiful garden, turning a subtle spotlight on key works by Byron, Tennyson and many more beloved UK poets in suitably inspirational surroundings. This complimentary experience is open to residents and non-residents alike until Wednesday 30 September; linger long for alfresco refreshments after you’ve completed the trail and receive 10% off your order.

Both The Mint Room’s elegant dining rooms and their splendid rooftop terrace is open for business, while their home delivery service (introduced during lockdown) has proved to be a huge hit, not least of all because they’ve made it possible to have their iconic Taste of India Banqueting Menu delivered to your door.

The Peking Restaurant – who recently reintroduced their takeaway service – has reopened for full restaurant service during the evening; call 01225 466377 to make that all-important booking.

Corkage is popping those corks again and have reopened their Chapel Row HQ. Top tip: fancy Brunch & Bubbles on a Sunday? You know where to go! 

The Scallop Shell has ceased its takeaway/fishmonger service now it’s open again for full, sit-in business, but sister venture The Oyster Shell has extended its opening hours to take up the takeaway/home delivery slack – dive in!
thescallopshell.co.uk; theoystershell.co.uk

Popinjays has popped up to provide an alfresco paradise at The Bird – think, spacious, lounge-around seating areas, exotic Balinese parasols, stunning cityscape views and fabulously flamboyant touches everywhere, not least of all on the summer-infused cocktail menu…