“Starting up, it’s going to be hell,” says Mark Selby, chief executive and co-founder of Mexican restaurant chain Wahaca.
“A lot of people are going be nervous about coming out. We’ve all got to do our jobs in making people feel confident, making them feel safe, but also giving them that experience that hospitality is.”
Restaurants and pubs across the UK have been hard-hit by lockdown measures that were introduced in March in an attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
In England, the hospitality industry expects to be allowed to reopen from 4 July, although there’s no firm date yet for Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
But Mr Selby does not expect consumer confidence to return overnight.
“The reality is that people are not going to come back in their droves, they’re going to slowly build back that confidence,” he says.
Wahaca typically serves about 60,000 diners each week. But the restaurant chain expects that once it has reopened, sales will initially be down by about 60%, before slowly coming back up over the course of the next year.
Like other British restaurant chains and retailers, Wahaca is considering a number of measures in a bid to keep staff and workers safe amid the pandemic.
Mark says customers could be given the option of ordering food on apps. Other safety measures are likely to include having staff wash their hands every 20 minutes – once its 28 UK outlets have reopened.
And although Wahaca is keen to make things work in a newly socially-distanced world, Mr Selby expects the restaurant chain to struggle, if social distancing guidelines are not relaxed at least somewhat.
“I don’t see how anyone makes money on two-metre guidance, it becomes an impossible situation to work to,” he says.
Other countries use lower numbers for social distancing recommendations. In France, for example, the recommended distance between customer and staff is one metre.
The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said it was working with industry “at pace to develop safe ways for pubs, restaurants, bars and cafes to reopen at the earliest opportunity it is safe to do so”.
The government is expected to release guidelines on operating in a “safe” manner as soon as this week, so firms have time to prepare before reopening in England.