Yesterday a man walked through the gate at which is a large sign explaining our new working methods, past the outdoor counter and another sign “Order Here”, through a door marked “Staff Only” and inside.
“I’m sorry but you’re not allowed in here at the moment”
“How was I supposed to know that?”
We are getting a lot of phone calls.Many more than we’re used to.For all previous seasons 90% of calls were from someone trying to save us money on our electricity bills but now 90% are asking are you open? do we have to book? can we reserve a table for 4? can we have afternoon tea under a gazebo? Last week I took a booking from someone who wanted to book High Tea for Four - a range of sandwiches, homemade scones and cakes. Plus the tea.“Any dietary requirements?” I asked“One of the ladies is vegetarian,” she replied, “so just give her tuna or something.”
Today was the first day of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme.
We registered last week having been undecided for a while - would it be worth the extra paperwork? Would visitors expect it from us?
It went well today though I had to keep concentrating.
Here is now what happens as a customer approaches the counter:
Me: Hello, just to let you know we’re taking part in the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme (pointing to poster) which means that if you like we can offer you any food and drinks for half price today.
Up to a point. Although it’s pretty difficult to reach that point.
Customer: Oh right.
Me: Would you like to use the scheme?
Customer: yes please/rude not to/not everyday the government pays for a cream tea/what do I have to do?
Me: How many of you will be eating/drinking with us today?
(fills in form with answer, takes order, adds it up, tells them the total and then what they should pay, they smile/shake head/add another piece of cake).
Then I pick up the other clipboard with the other form and ask for their details for contact tracing.
This is not normal.
On Thursday we had bookings for High Tea, our special sandwiches, cakes and scones extravaganza.
In previous seasons we took bookings for larger numbers but if a visitor strolled in and fancied one we could do it. We’ve had to move this season to bookings only.
Five ladies turned up for theirs at 12 and took their time over a catch-up, food and tea. As they left they rebooked, same table same options, for next month.
The other table was for three High Teas at 1pm.
I’d had a phone call a few days earlier from a man who wanted to bring his mum (for her birthday) and his grandfather. He was so happy we we’re still doing an afternoon tea and had availability, said he’d called so many places who weren’t doing them at the moment or couldn’t fit them in.
I told him about the large garden and the gazebo situation and he said he’d like a table under one of those, said he would prefer to be outside.
He asked if we would put a candle in one of the scones for his mum.
No problem at all.
I was surprised when they hadn’t arrived by 1.30 and at 1.45 I rang his number.
I thought I may have the date wrong, or the day, or the time.
He had called me from work when he booked, was stressed and had, remember, called lots of places. He couldn’t remember exactly where he had booked so, when he picked up his grandad, he called one of the previously called numbers and asked if his reservation was with them.
They said yes.
So when I rang him he said he was indeed having tea with his mum and grandfather.
He was very apologetic.
We ate the sandwiches.
Yesterday he arrived at the tearooms to apologise in person.
He offered to pay for the High Teas.
He scanned the garden and told me the rest of the story.
When he took my call he was shocked and mortified but his mother was angry. She was cross that the other place had wrongly told him they had his reservation.
So he went to challenge them.
They admitted that they didn’t have the booking, they thought one of their staff may have failed to write it down and didn’t want to let anyone down.
I don’t think there was anything malicious in it at all. They thought they were doing the right thing.
I hope he will come back one day and bring his mum.
She deserves to sit in our garden eating scones and drinking tea and hearing from me what a lovely, classy young man she has brought up.
I was very impressed that he turned up and very happy to show him what he had missed...
Friday was sunny and our busiest day yet.
The bread order has become easier to guess but what is difficult is finding takeaway cardboard trays for the sandwiches.
Because we have a small kitchen we can only have one person washing up at the moment so all our food is being served in takeaway containers (hot drinks still in mugs and cups, pots etc). If we didn’t do this our washing up would be overwhelming so we’ve sourced lots of recyclable and compostable options.
Trouble is everyone else is doing the same thing. The source has temporarily dried up.
Today has dawned sunny and warm and there is no way we have enough cardboard trays. Will we have to open the china cupboard?
I spent most of the day in the kitchen making scones and sandwiches (brie and pear still very popular).
I wish I’d stayed there the whole time.
This afternoon the health inspector arrived to check how we’re working and whether we’re following the guidance. In heavy rain he sheltered under the gazebo at the order point and I was summoned by one of my young members of staff to talk to him.
First thing I did was offer him my hand to shake...
My father came to have coffee in the garden this morning.
To see how I’m getting on, check out the gazebos and generally lend me support.
He sat with people he knows who happened to have turned up at the same time.
He’s 85 and was wearing a mask, although by the time I took out his coffee his mask was under his chin as he happily chatted away.
I told him he wasn’t really far enough away from Nancie, that the two of them should be two metres apart.
He said it was fine, he was a metre away which was now allowed.
“It’s one metre only with other factors in place, for example if you’re wearing a mask,” I wagged my finger at him, “and you’re NOT wearing it, it’s NOT over your mouth and nose.”
As I said this to him I glanced towards another table where a man was sitting watching me, an eyebrow raised.
I felt I had to explain that I didn’t berate all customers like this.
Just my dad.
We have just completed day five of this strange new season and I think (hope) I’m getting the hang of it.
Today a man refused to give his name and telephone number for contact tracing.
He walked away when I asked for his details.
And missed out on a fine scone.
We have set up seven gazebos in the garden to give our visitors either shelter from the rain or protection from the sun, whichever brand of summer this year brings.
Unfortunately I hadn’t really factored in the wind.
This morning I arrived to find one of them buckled and on its knees.
I took a few steps forward before looking left, steeling myself to see the damage done to the ones on the former tennis court. Joy. They were still standing.
There was another victim of the wind though. The cough screen, bought at great expense to adorn the table at the door (now a makeshift counter) took off during a particularly violent gust.
Tomorrow I shall be trying to glue it back together.
The first day was something of a relief.
It’s a relief to be open again.
A relief to see customers.
A relief that they didn’t come in great numbers but instead in a slow and steady trickle which we could manage.
A relief that the new systems worked well for the most part and that we have chance to think about anything that needs tweaking.
A relief that everyone who came was grateful, supportive and understanding. And amusing.
I started the day with a knot of anxiety in my stomach and ended it laughing about this photo sent by a customer with the comment, “a variation on a masked ball”:
Planning for reopening this year is like opening for that very first time in 2010.
With plenty of added issues.
My head is spinning with thoughts of social distancing measures, reduced menus, hand sanitizer, cough screens, floor stickers, one-way systems, work stations, takeaway paraphernalia, ventilation, masks, gloves, hours, rotas, signs.
We have no real idea how many staff we’ll need but we definitely can’t do things the way we’re used to.
Last season on any given dry day we’d have 4 or 5 staff, squeezing past each other in the bottlenecks, the cry of “sorry” or “excuse me” ringing out every few seconds. People reaching across each other for cutlery, sauces, cups and saucers, sugar bowls and milk jugs; two or three people working on the same order so that we could get it out quickly.
In the small kitchen there’d be three people at three close stations making sandwiches, panini, salads, jacket potatoes, talking to each other to make sure they were working in unison.
Two steps away on the other side of the room would be 2 or 3 people bringing in trays, washing up, loading the steam washers, putting things away, passing each other constantly, swapping roles, often called to help take out orders.
This is the way we have done it for ten years. It’s like a bee hive. Everyone knows or learns how it works.
Now we have a very different challenge.
Once we reopen on Saturday 4th July we’ll be feeling our way for the first week or two.