What might reopening look like with social distancing regulations?

Reopening is going to look a lot different to what it would normally look like after such things as a refurbishment or new ownership. Social distancing measures will require about 40% of restaurants’ tables to be taken away, allowing for the two metre rule to be adhered to. It will be a strange and different environment that customers and businesses will have to adapt to.

Is it possible for restaurants to survive if social distancing means a huge decrease in custom?

With 40% fewer tables, it’s going to be hard for all restaurants to survive. Looking at streamlining  menus or reducing staff may help. However, we’ve projected that 90% of restaurants will remain closed following the crisis as unfortunately it just won’t viable for them to reopen especially if the majority or all of your business is dine-in.

What are the asks of the RAI to the Government to help support the industry?

As well as the financial support, we’ve looked at how other countries governments are helping. In Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius, the government has opened up public outdoor spaces to hospitality businesses, giving them the additional space to serve as many customers as possible within the social distancing guidelines. Business owners in Cork have got together – and I would encourage any community business groups to do the same – and have talked to their local authorities about using pedestrianised streets as extended outdoor facilities.

What does the future look like for the next 6 months? Or the next year? And how can restaurants navigate this "new future"?

I think people shouldn’t look at the short term, they need to focus on long term. We should be projecting for between 12-18 months. If we start to plan for an 18-month period, you’ll at least know where you need to be or what you need to do. Then you can sit down with your bank, or lending provider, and planning out for that length.

What will be the long-term impact of the pandemic on the hospitality sector? What might change as a result of the pandemic?

Customer and staff welfare is going to continue to be the number one priority and every part of your business needs to centre on this. Consumers will vote with their feet; as in, they will go to where they feel safest.

Work/Life balance is another thing that will be looked at. This pandemic lockdown has taught most of us that we can work from home. From a restaurant perspective, we have to go to a physical premises to work, it’s different, but I think businesses will be now looking at labour cost. It’s not about cutting wages, it’s about cutting how many people are in a premises and the hours that are being worked.

How does the situation in Ireland compare to that in other countries?

We’re seeking guidance from countries who have had a similar level of impact such as Austria and Denmark, looking at when they reopen, how they reopen, how their restaurant and hospitality economy reacts to COVID-19 and what happens going forward. It’s important that we learn from them. Collectively too in Europe, we can learn a lot from each other.

We’re also in consultation with our colleagues in associations in New Zealand and Australia and talking about their standard operating procedures. New Zealand is the first to come out of this and we see them as the benchmark for how things should happen and work. They are the same size country as Ireland and also tourism-dependant - I think we can learn a lot from them.

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