Will a reduction to 1m social distancing help restaurants recover?

Mixed response from Dubai restaurateurs about the mooted change
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Some restaurateurs want the 2m social distancing requirement reduced
Some restaurateurs want the 2m social distancing requirement reduced

Restaurants in Dubai are being forced to operate with two-metre social distancing rules in place, which for many means a significant reduction in their total capacity.

F&B outlets In England have recently opened with only 1m social distancing required, after a sustained bout of pressure from the likes of Raymond Blanc.

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But how beneficial would such a reduction be in Dubai? Not everyone is convinced it’s a great idea.

“I would advise restaurant professionals to be careful what they wish for,“ said Nicolas Budzynski, global operations director for LPM Restaurant & Bar. “As a first thought, it may look very attractive, as it will increase footfall, however we also need to take into consideration that the market is reopening slowly. Increasing capacity will mean hiring more staff to cater for those guests, when most of the restaurant businesses have laid-off a big part of their team and are still not paying 100% of wages.”

Budzynski believes as many as 25% of customers are still wary of being near other guests and want the full 2m social distancing respected, with a switch to one-metre distance risking losing their business.

However, Gates Hospitality CEO Naim Maadad told Caterer Middle East that a reduction of the distancing to one-metre would be a welcome initiative that would “enhance the vibe and boost the feel and ambiance of venues”.

He said: “Such a measure would contribute to bring back the warmth and life to the brand – and going forward would help alleviate the cold airy environment ongoing at the moment. Businesses have been set up with projections, budget, expenditure, and revenue expectations based on a full capacity and high level of guest footfall – and cannot sustain the same long term with the restrictions of the pandemic.”

Panchali Mahendra, managing director for Atelier House Hospitality, told Caterer that it’s almost impossible to implement strict social distancing in a restaurant due to the natural movement of guests.

She said: “Anyone entering and exiting from their table to door or vice versa will always cross by other guests and no one can gauge that distancing. A lesser distance definitely helps in higher seating capacity which in turns helps in higher revenues and controlling your operating cost.”

But while Budzynski is hopeful of a return to normal in the near future, he believes there's more important things for restaurants to focus on right now. He said: "I would suggest to manage the F&B cost with suppliers, manage and optimise the payroll and manning efficiency, managing the operating costs and negotiating a rent relief or reduction with the landlord. Once all of this is achieved and the business demand is still increasing, then we should look at increasing capacities."

For those with particularly small venues, like Reif Othman whose eponymous Japanese kushiyaki restaurant seats only 30 in its compact Dar Wasl Mall location, the change could make a real difference, however, for Samer Hamedeh whose Akiba Dori outlet already had seats 1.5m apart, adapting to 2m hasn’t been an issue. Instead, he’s looking for other changes to be made, and is optimistic about the future.

He said: “As for what more needs to be done; that’s a long list of logical and important actions that will help the industry as a whole; and I think we’re getting some real momentum with the help of our Dubai government counterparts - 2021 will be a very different year for Dubai restaurateurs and I say that in the most positive way you can imagine.”

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