“Our advice to our colleagues in the industry is to try and hang in there, we will get back open, and we will get back to normal hopefully by the end of the year. Also, turn your tables!”
How has the re-opening of Suesey Street and No. 25 for indoor dining and activities been?
No. 25 has been in operation with 25-guest weddings since June and that increased to 50 guests when restrictions eased. Our maximum capacity for weddings is 60 guests so there is still a certain amount of social distancing involved. The largest group we will usually do at a table is six, sometimes we can do an eight depending on how many people are vaccinated at a party. For Suesey Street, indoors we have changed the configuration so that social distancing is catered for, much as it was last summer. We can cater to up to 40 guests in our indoor dining area following the current government guidelines.
We also have our outdoor Garden Room where we can seat a maximum of 40 guests, and we have added additional space for people to wait for a table and have a drink comfortably. We have been having a really positive response from our guests, everyone is working together to make sure we all have a safe and enjoyable time. It’s been great to see people coming back and feeling like we’re getting back to some kind of normality.
How has the pandemic altered your approach to these spaces?
It hasn’t really altered the way we look at things, but it has altered the way we operate in a way to make sure that first of all staff feel comfortable when they’re here, and to make sure that our customers feel comfortable in the space that they are dining in. The feedback we have been getting from our customers in Suesey Street is that they appreciate the hand sanitizer bottles on each table and that the bathrooms have padding on the doors which are sanitised to minimise touch points. The restaurant is cleaned completely once/twice a day dependent, and every table is cleaned and sanitised after each sitting.
The Garden Rooms at Suesey Street are back open serving lunch and dinners. Have you altered or reconsidered its offerings in light of restrictions and perceived trends?
Absolutely. We had to reduce the menu slightly because of the long cook items, some of those had to be taken off. Due to the fact that we are only sitting up to 40 people in the area and in order for us to stay viable we have to turn the restaurant three times a night.
With our slightly reduced menu we can now do up to 70/80 covers a night safely and the same at lunchtime. Reducing the menu makes it faster and easier for the kitchen to produce dishes at a faster rate so guests are not waiting for food or feeling rushed while they are with us.
There is a lot of talk of struggling to find personnel owing to people pursuing new career paths etc… Has this proven an issue for you?
Absolutely, not so much with the waiting staff, most of the wait staff came back to us. In the kitchen, we hired three new chefs as three of the chefs left during the pandemic and got other jobs. The roles we’re having problems with are jobs like kitchen porters. There’s a couple of different reasons, one is that a lot of them are riding bicycles for Deliveroo, the other is that a lot of them have gone home to their home countries because it’s gotten so expensive to live here. Due to the rising cost of rents, they can’t afford to live here. Other people have gone and got work in supermarkets.
No. 25 had just undergone a refurbishment prior to lockdown, can you remind us of what it entailed and who the space is targeted at?
We added a beautiful champagne bar on the ground floor. We had a spare room on the first floor that wasn’t being fully maximised, so we decided to turn it into more or less a powder room for brides and generally create more space for our guests. The rooms get heavy use, particularly during the Christmas period so we put a new floor in upstairs too as it needed a refresh. Because of the pandemic weddings have gotten smaller, so we are an ideal venue for intimate weddings of up to 60 people.
No. 25 is a private Georgian house on the Georgian mile, so you get the whole venue exclusively to yourself across two floors. It’s a high-end bespoke wedding venue where we offer a private dining experience with sophisticated 5-star service.
What message of support and advice would you like to offer your colleagues in the industry?
You have to be very inventive. We were very lucky that we had changed our outdoor space. We used to have an awning out in the Garden Room that was damaged during the snow a couple of years ago, so we replaced it with a sliding all-weather roof and that’s stood to us, particularly over the last year. Our advice to our colleagues in the industry is to try and hang in there, we will get back open, and we will get back to normal hopefully by the end of the year. Also, turn your tables!
The key thing about turning your tables is you have to teach the team and the kitchen about rhythm and about a sense of urgency and immediate service, getting things done and moving very quickly and not leaving people to sit there. You have to encourage your patrons to order to keep the pace going too and make them aware as soon as they arrive that while you aren’t rushing them, they will need to order immediately. People are very understanding and it’s okay to set their expectations to meet the needs of your team and provide the service they expect too.