As the country gets to grips with the ‘new normal’, our team shares their varying experiences of eating out as lockdown eases. Some have ventured out to many restaurants while others are yet to dine out at all. Here, we look at how local eateries are adapting to the covid era.
John Elworthy on Arbuckles Ely, Chef & Brewer Peterborough and Whittlesey’s Wetherspoons
Ely, Whittlesey and Peterborough have all enjoyed my custom since restaurants and pubs re-opened their doors.
First day and first restaurant was Arbuckles on the Ely leisure park; we were among the diners on July 4.
Uncertain about the requirements in this new post-lockdown age, I phoned to inquire about a table whilst standing outside the restaurant!
The booking was swiftly confirmed and moments later a smartly dressed waiter was welcoming us at the door, inviting us to leave a contact number, and ushering us to a larger than needed table.
The experience was professional, superbly well organised and the meal, as always, delicious. Service was exemplary and we felt the adage of ‘failure to prepare is to prepare to fail’ had been well understood and mastered (9/10).
Three days later and it was a rainy Tuesday in Peterborough and time for some ‘gastro classics’ at a Chef & Brewer that can often be rammed floor to ceiling.
On this occasion it was a sad reflection of its former glory with alternate tables out of action and a hesitant crew guiding us through the procedures now in place for dining out.
The meal was lovely, the steak pie as fattening and fulfilling as I remembered it, and the wine by the glass was as red and as innocuous as you would expect.
The steaming, again fattening and fulfilling, sticky toffee pudding rounded off a delightful visit and we left wishing the staff well.
Normalising the dining out experience, however, is I suspect going to exercise the minds of both customers and staff for some time to come (8/10).
A week later and at the George in Whittlesey for a ‘steak night special’ for which Wetherspoons is renowned. There’s a nine-point code suggested for diners that includes dropping off a form after your visit with a contact number and you are urged to use their app to order.
We opted to order at the bar only to discover that virtually every item on the menu was ‘off’.
A manager apologised for having no steaks, no sausages, no ribs, no gammon, no pizza and no chips blaming ‘supply issues.’
We ended up ordering half a dozen starters for around £20 that turned out to be tasty and satisfying and we concluded that a path we had not expected to go down was in fact a decent choice for another time too.
It was 9pm and the quietest I can recall seeing the place and it all felt a little sad (4/10).
Dan Mason on why he’s not dining out just yet
The temptation to dine out since pubs and restaurants were allowed to reopen their doors has been brewing, but ultimately, it has not been difficult to resist.
I have heard mostly positive reviews from those who were eager to satisfy their appetite in a post-lockdown world, praising the measures now in place to keep the public safe.
Before the pandemic well and truly strengthened its grip, I was comfortable trying different cuisines, visiting venues I had not been to before in villages or towns I hardly travel to.
But now, I will be more tentative in dipping my toe into the ‘new normal’ for dining than ever before - and I’m sure I am not the only one feeling this way.
Of course, there will be a time when social distancing will become second nature, washing your hands and ordering from a mobile app as commonplace as meeting friends at the bar for a pint. For now, however, I will continue to dine in the comfort of my own home.
Harry Rutter on Route 47 at Thorney, The Fine Food Store in Stamford and Tulip Queen at Spalding
I was sceptical at first about how bars and restaurants would pull of safe social distancing while maintaining a good service, it’s safe to see everywhere I’ve been has done it perfectly. My first post-lockdown eatery experience was at The Fine Food Store in Stamford where my partner and I enjoyed a spot of lunch in the rural town close to Cambridgeshire.
Upon arrival, a friendly waitress showed us to our table which was safely spaced from the rest and had a bottle of hand sanitiser in the middle for us to use.
We were asked to fill in track and trace information before we were allowed to view the menu on the wall to avoid touching table menus.
The menu was full of options, with alternatives for vegetarians, vegans and those with gluten allergies and a full soft, hot and alcoholic drinks menu.
Our food – warm chicken and bacon sandwiches with a side salad – was brought to us by another smiling friendly waitress wearing a PPE visor.
Payment was made safely by contactless before we waited for people to come into the café / coffee shop before we left – maintaining social distancing (8/10).
The second experience was at Tulip Queen Spalding, owned by Marstons who have strict guidelines in place across all of their pubs in the UK.
When we arrived, the friendly waiter on the door asked us to use the provided hand sanitiser before taking a disposable menu from the small stack on a table at the front door.
We were directed to a table which was, again, safely spaced away from other diners and were instructed to order at the bar which was covered with a PPE screen.
The menu was more limited than usual but there was still plenty to choose from with lots of options for those with allergies or those who want a meat-free meal.
We opted for hunter’s half chicken and a double XL chicken burger which arrived with fresh cutlery, sauce sachets and napkins on a separate plate.
Payment was made through contactless when ordering so when finished, we were asked to exit via another door to the back of the restaurant (9/10).
Finally, we visited Route 47 Steakhouse and grill in Thorney to grab some last-minute food at around 8.30pm - luckily, they were able to fit us in.
All of the tables were, once again, safely spaced and we were asked to log our information for the track and trace before sanitising our hands.
The friendly team allowed us to choose where to sit, as long as we were a safe distance from another diner, before placing a fresh menu on the table.
The menu was as full as ever with dozens of options, including burgers, hot dogs, steaks and an even fuller dessert menu (if you can fit that in).
Two diners sat on the opposite side of the restaurant – owned by the same team behind Shooters American Diner in March – had just polished off two 50-ounce steaks.
The Route 47 team were, as always, extremely welcoming and were happy to chat about business (from a safe distance from the table of course).
The bill was once again paid safely using card before the prolific staff fully cleaned the table and took away the condiments we used to replace with fresh ones (9/10).
Eating out post-lockdown has surprised me at how well it can be done while keeping safe and is nothing to be scared of, you should try it when you feel ready and able.
Ben Jolley on The Three Tuns in Doddington
It’s safe to say I felt a little apprehensive about eating out again - following the easing of lockdown.
But, as soon as we arrived at our local – The Three Tuns in Doddington - for our first meal out in four months, our concerns were immediately put at ease.
With hand sanitiser dispensers fitted at the entrance as well as in various spots around the pub, it was good to see the correct safety measures in place.
As we made our way through to the pub’s restaurant room, we immediately noticed a change - the tables had been safely laid out in a way that allows for social distancing.
Additionally, the bar staff wore full face visors while ensuring that surfaces and tables were wiped down regularly.
My partner wasn’t too sure about going out just yet but said she felt at ease.
Great food and great table service from all the staff. It was easy to see the hard work that the team had put in (9/10).