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.
Today is supposed to be the first day of the new season. Instead we have no idea when we’ll be reopening because of a global pandemic of Coronavirus.
A few weeks ago I was wrestling with the government advice as it stood then. Should I partially open and allow people to sit in the tearooms garden, far enough apart to be safe but still able to be sociable? Or was it right instead to close and not give anyone a place to meet and potentially pass on the virus. I thought about it day and night and the rights and wrongs of both.
Then the decision was made for me. I imagine it will be months until we reopen.
There is life still at the tearooms but not the human kind.
Last weekend my family walked up and brought out the twenty plus agapanthus plants which had been inside the conservatory over the winter months.
I shall visit from time to time on foot as I don’t live far. I’ll check out what’s in bloom and may even post a few pictures of what we’d usually be seeing.
We can make our own cup of tea and sit in our own home and enjoy the garden and the conservatory from a different perspective.
The last few weeks of any season are filled with conversations with regulars who come to bid us a happy and relaxing winter.
Almost all of them ask if I am going away on holiday.
The answer, sadly, is always no.
I tell them that I do have lots of lovely things planned with friends and a pile of books I’m itching to get through.
The first day of the closed season and I am already living the high life.
The septic tank and grease trap have been emptied.
Our last day of the season dawns.
It’s going to be sunny but, I fear, not sunny enough to sell all the leftover ice cream. We have a larger freezer this year and it carries a lot of stock.
We have a full staff so we’ll be putting things into hibernation for the winter as we finish using them.
Tony has returned from university to work for the weekend.
He’s very wise.
He knows that he’ll be going back to university with leftovers which would keep a normal person going for a few days. It might last Tony until Tuesday if he doesn’t eat it all on the way back.
I am looking forward to a few months free of washing and ironing aprons.
Yesterday I served a dad with a few children in tow. He ordered hot drinks and took some cold ones out to their table outside.
Seconds later a woman came in carrying one of the cold cans. She headed towards the drinks fridge.
“Do you mind if I change this?” she asked, sighing, “After twenty years of marriage my husband still doesn’t know that I don’t drink lemonade.”
Yesterday morning we took a call.
“What time are you open?” a gentleman asked, “and are you still selling your egg mayonnaise sandwiches?”
We told him times and that yes the sandwich remains on the menu.
We were slightly taken aback that an egg sandwich could create such fervour.
He said he would see us later.
Towards the end of lunchtime a man ordered a few lunch items including an egg mayonnaise sandwich.
“Are you the gentleman who called earlier?” I ventured.
He looked quizzical. It definitely wasn’t him. He was not the egg man.
Today Ollie (18) was teaching Mary (70ish) a few words to add to her vocabulary.
When she went home she was going to tell her husband that she had made bare scones this morning and was bare tired.
Rosie did her first day with us. We had £5 each in tips. We told her that this is far from normal and that often we share less than £5 between us. We certainly don’t want to raise her hopes.
The bulk of the money had come from a lovely group of friends who had booked High Tea for thirteen people, two of whom were diabetic. This was a first for us and a challenge.
Naomi made a low sugar chocolate cake and among Mary’s bare scones were a few sugar-free ones. We also made a sort of jam from apple, pear, strawberries and raspberries (no sugar at all) to serve with the scones.
We were all pleased with the results.
So, thankfully, were the thirteen.
Two panini conversations took place yesterday.
The first was with a man who had brought an international group on a history/heritage tour.
“Your panini,” he began, “what are they like because I don’t really get on with them. I’ve had a few on my travels and they’re always hard and crispy. Are yours? Or are they unctuous?”
I should have suggested that if he hadn’t got on with them in the past then perhaps panini weren’t his thing but he decided he would order one with a filling of our home-cooked ham and cheddar.
I went through to the conservatory where the group was finishing lunch.
I asked what he thought?
His face told the whole story.
“Perhaps,” I ventured, “it’s time to give up on panini. It’s an affair that’s never going to work. Leave it and move on.”
He looked saddened.
A cream tea put the smile back on his face.
Then, a short while later:
“Can I be awkward?” she asked.
It was a fairly quiet, rainy Sunday, so I wasn’t phased.
“Instead of bacon, brie and cranberry on my panini please may I have bacon, brie and pesto?”
I told her she wasn’t at all awkward and we’d give it a go. I also told her that if she thought it was a winner then it may just end up on our menu...
She returned to the counter to tell me that it was delicious and should really be a regular.