Businesses are pulling out all the stops as they prepare to open their doors from tomorrow (Saturday).
Restauranteur Michael Baldwin described the re-opening of the hospitality industry as a “learning curve” for both owners and customers as lockdown restrictions are eased.
Pubs, bars, cafes, restaurants and hotels are putting in place a raft of strict COVID safety measures so having a pint or enjoying a meal out will be a different experience for now.
Cashless payments, social distancing, restrictions on numbers and in some cases reduced opening hours are just some of the measures being introduced to keep people safe and boost consumer confidence.
Mr Baldwin, president of West Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, said it was a “nervous” time as business owners waited to see what level of support they would get from the public.
With a mixture of excitement at getting back to a “new normal” and trepidation in the air, it is not clear at this stage how many people will feel comfortable drinking or eating out.
But businesses are doing all they can to reassure the public.
Mr Baldwin, who runs the Bank House in King’s Lynn and the town’s Wenns Chop and Ale House, said customers would have to be “patient” with an industry which has had to change following lockdown.
“There’s no counter service, no cash, all card, it is all going to change,” he said.
“People will have to be very patient. The industry has got new rules and it will not be the same hospitality it was before. It is going to be a balancing act and a learning curve for customers and staff.”
Some businesses are introducing various ordering apps to help reduce interaction with servers and staff will be taking customer contact details for COVID track and trace purposes.
But Mr Baldwin said the opportunity to re-open would give the industry a chance to test customer confidence and make some money before winter.
“I think of a lot of businesses are now getting to grips with all the guidance we were sent last Wednesday,” he said.
“There are very strict measures for social distancing. I think if you have a small cafe or bar outlet, only being able to have a few people inside will be a problem.
“If you are a more traditional pub or drinks-led, you are going to have people taking orders and there’s no bar service. We are having to make lots of changes people don’t even know about.
“Hospitality is going to be here, we have got to have all these measures in place and need to make sure people feel safe, but people are going to have to bear with us because service is going to be very different. It will be a new learning curve for all of us.”
With the re-opening of hairdressers and barbers, there has been a rush to book long-awaited hair cuts.
Leigh Gould, who runs Gould Barbers with brother Darran, said all 34 of their countrywide branches would re-open tomorrow (Saturday).
Gould Barbers, which has premises in Lynn, Gaywood and Downham Market, has 175 self-employed barbers who Mr Gould said were “itching” to get back to work.
“I think it has made everyone appreciate work a bit more. We have got measures in place to make everywhere as COVID safe as possible, with screens between chairs and visors for staff,” he said.
The business has opened a new booking system which Mr Gould said had gone “crazy” since the re-opening announcement.
“We didn’t take bookings until we knew we were going to open,” added Mr Gould.
“I think we will be very busy, it will be a bit like the Christmas rush and then I’m sure it will die down.”
King’s Lynn Business Improvement District (BID) has been helping town centre traders to prepare for re-opening with advice, signage and help with risk assessments.
BID manager Vicky Etheridge said tomorrow would be “great” for businesses and a big morale boost for customers.
“Going to the hairdressers, having a drink with friends, a meal out with family have been some of the things that people have said they have missed the most during lockdown,” she said.
“Being able to socialise, albeit at a safe distance, will do wonders for morale.
“We really feel for those businesses who have to remain closed and hope it won’t be long before they can re-open.
“Going out for a meal or having your hair done from tomorrow will be a different experience.
“Please check with your hairdresser/barber and bar or restaurant before you visit.
“In most cases you will need a pre-booked table or hair appointment, you will be asked to leave your name and contact details for track and trace purposes, those serving you are likely to wear masks, in bars and restaurants it will be table service only, no standing at the bar.
“Please do respect the measures that businesses are putting in place, they are protect you, themselves and their staff.”
Other beauty businesses including nail bars and spas and leisure businesses – gyms and pools – are still waiting for a re-opening date.