Published: 15:26, 02 July 2020
| Updated: 15:30, 02 July 2020
It's just two days until pubs, restaurants and hairdressers can reopen, and businesses in Kent have been eagerly preparing after more than three months of lockdown.
But, even with the go-ahead, some are still holding off, fearing it won’t be viable to welcome people back yet.
On Tuesday, June 23, the prime minister revealed the latest round of lockdown easing would include certain hospitality and leisure businesses being allowed to welcome customers back from Saturday, July 4.
Regulations to keep outlets ‘Covid-secure’ have been published by the government, and as the two-metre rule "effectively makes life impossible for large parts of the economy" it will be reduced to just one metre.
Among those rejoicing at the news is Alessandro Biscardi, owner of Vesuvius in Maidstone’s Lower Stone Street.
The 36-year-old spent last week meticulously reading through the official guidance and planning how he will reopen his business.
He wants to avoid putting perspex screens between tables or staff wearing masks, to keep things as normal as possible.
Instead, around a third of tables will be removed, leaving almost two metres between each one.
He said: “The atmosphere is a big part of what we offer here but we will be asking customers how they feel about our decisions.”
Only full-time staff will return at first and hand sanitiser will be available at several stations.
Mr Biscardi added: “We’ll be cleaning constantly between sittings and doing all we can to make everyone feel as safe as possible.”
The George and Dragon in Headcorn is developing an app so people can order both from their tables and home, which will include offers and promotions.
Owner Sarah Farrow is “excited” about reopening but says they need to “gently ease into it”.
The team will just be serving drinks for a week and will then begin serving their new summer menu.
Indoor capacity has been reduced by around 30%, there are dividers between outdoor seating and Ms Farrow has also invested in a marquee which can be put up in the garden if needed.
Guests can come up to the bar for a drink, with yellow footprints marking where they should wait, but ordering from the table will be encouraged.
Ms Farrow said: “We are going to be as safe as we can and it’s all about having patience.
“It is quite a community pub and we haven’t seen people for a long time so it will be really nice for them to just come in for a coffee and catch up.”
But for those who are still not quite ready to venture out, Ms Farrow is thinking of launching Zoom wine tasting sessions, with bottles either picked up or delivered beforehand.
At the Potting Shed in Langley, there is more outdoor seating with a new marquee covering tables on the grass, screens at the bars and signs reminding customers to stay safe and wash their hands.
Online bookings of up to six people - the government limit - are encouraged, but the taverns will still accept walk-ins if there’s room.
Punters are not allowed to stand at the bar for now and details will need to be submitted for potential use in the government’s track and trace system.
Serving hours at the pubs have been extended, with no break in between lunch and dinner service, and takeaway options, which were launched during lockdown, will also continue to be available.
Sian Timmermans, marketing manager for Elite Pubs, which runs eight establishments in Kent, including the Potting Shed, said they have asked staff to wear visors instead of masks because: “we don’t want it to be too clinical - we still want people to enjoy themselves.”
The Elite pubs restaurants have seen a 60% capacity reduction on average, but many benefit from having large outdoor seating areas.
However, the Herbalist in Maidstone’s town centre won’t be opening yet as it doesn’t have a garden.
When asked whether she is apprehensive about people getting drunk and not abiding by social distancing rules, Ms Timmermans said: “We aren’t too worried as our pubs aren’t really drinking pubs - people normally have to travel by car to get there and we are very much about the family vibe. But of course, staff have the power to not serve someone if they don’t abide by the rules.”
We can also say goodbye to the DIY haircuts which have left many of us with wonky fringes and almost bald heads, as hairdressers are also reopening from Saturday.
Flicks Hair Studio in Tovil is taking all precautions, installing perspex screens between each chair and asking clients to pay an extra £4 for a disposable mask, gown and disposable towel.
Staff will wear masks and visors, and people will only be let in at their appointment time, with a 15-minute gap between each sitting so stations can be thoroughly cleaned.
Separate bookings are being made for vulnerable people, and clients are also asked to wash their hair beforehand, if possible.
Jessica Faulkes who runs the Church Street salon with her mum, Maxine Faulkes, said: “It’ll be nice to get back to work - we have tried to cover everything to make people feel safe.”
The manager of Hair Alchemy in Maidstone, Simon Best, is booked up for almost four weeks, and is also willing to do extra cuts each day over a six-day week.
The 39-year-old is “excited and relieved” to be picking up his scissors again. He said: “There are lots and lots of hairy people out there.”
Five out of eight stations and just one head sink will be used at a time at the Gabriel’s Hill salon, which has also been preparing by stocking up on visors, anti-bacterial soap and optional masks for customers.
Mr Best said: “We didn’t buy everything too far in advance because we weren’t too sure what we would actually need.
“Lots of salons have spent loads on perspex screens but now we’ve found out you don’t need them.”
Director Aaron Garforth added: “We are trying to make it as normal as possible while also being safe.”
The salon is focusing on pre-booked appointments at the moment, so is able to guide people through the protocol and ask them if they would like to bring a face mask.
However, despite the overall excitement felt by many publicans and coiffeurs as they dust off their pint glasses and hairdryers, for some, it is still not time to reopen.
Spencer Nicholl, owner of Ye Olde Thirsty Pig in Maidstone, says he’d be “throwing money away” if he relaunched on July 4.
The 52-year-old, who also works for a demolition company, said: “I’m dying to get back to work but I’d be a fool to spend my money on things like perspex screens when that might not be needed in a few weeks.
“If we reopened, we’d need three staff in - one answering the phone and taking down people’s details, one cleaning and another serving. It just wouldn’t be viable with the number of customers.
“We wouldn’t be able to have a one-way system or an ordering app - that sort of thing will only work for big places like Wetherspoons.”
Mr Nicholl says he won’t open until everything has settled but has been using this time to complete vital renovations at the beamed tavern.
A Government-backed loan has helped with this, coming “in the nick of time”.
Others are also choosing to reopen a little later, including Drakes in Maidstone, as manager Oliver Aubrey is expecting his second baby soon, and La Taberna, which is waiting for work on the building to be completed.
When the Spanish tapas restaurant does welcome diners back, there will be two separate queues outside for those who have pre-booked and those who haven’t. Plus, there will be a new outdoor terraced area.
Maidstone Museum will welcome visitors from Tuesday, July 14 and will have a one-way route in place.People are encouraged to book in advance.
But the ODEON cinema at the Lockmeadow centre in Maidstone has revealed it will not reopen until October.
And certain industries have not even been given the choice to reopen yet, such as beauty salons, gyms and tattoo parlours.
Kimberley Smith, who owns Purenique beauty salon in Hawkhurst fears the once thriving industry could collapse if the closures continues for much longer.
More by this authorRebecca Tuffin
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