July 19: Safety before freedom, say St Albans businesses as restrictions ease
Sophie Banks & Angie Cronin
- Credit: Lussmanns
Shops, hospitality and entertainment businesses across the St Albans district are moving forward with fewer restrictions, but with a great deal of caution
The government has announced that from Monday July 19 it will no longer be mandatory to wear a mask inside shops and restaurants and other indoor venues and on public transport, and social distancing is also no longer a legal requirement.
Andrei Lussmann, founder and director of Hertfordshire restaurant group Lussmanns, which has restaurants in St Albans and Harpenden, said although he wants a return to normality he has to balance this with customers feeling safe and relaxed.
This means he willl “not radically change” what he is doing presently: “Of course I welcome normal life again, but the Government statement was, at best, woolly, and open to interpretation concerning indoor spaces, which puts the weight of responsibility firmly back onto hospitality businesses.
"This means we have to take time to consider the correct course of action, looking at all the variables involved, and not simply have a knee-jerk reaction.
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“Interaction with guests is key in a restaurant setting and mask-wearing for 10 hours at a time really inhibits this, especially for young staff for whom English may be a second language who need to be constantly communicating with customers in a fast-moving environment.
"However Lussmanns has guests of all ages and of all views and we must respect them. I want our customers to feel safe and I also want my staff to work in reasonable conditions.
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“I expect that many customers may still prefer to wear masks. On the whole, because they come to Lussmanns to eat and drink, they have only ever worn them when moving around the restaurant to visit the restrooms or on entering and exiting in any case, and we will leave that decision up to them.
“We will be keeping our tables spaced out, and won’t be going back to the number of tables we had in 2019. My own group of restaurants are spacious and roomy and have a good distance between each table and we will be keeping that to some extent.“
"As I have always said, I believe that restaurants are some of the safest public spaces out there when it comes to this virus: we are used to keeping everything stringently clean and sanitised; it’s always been best practice for restaurants to do this.
"And our guests do not move around; they come in and sit at their tables, naturally socially distanced from other parties, for the duration of their meal. Therefore we firmly believe they are safe spaces in which people can relax and enjoy themselves.”
Punters at live music venue The Horn are very likely to be moving about, and the pub has taken the step of issuing some guidance to them asking them to think of others as their programme of live gigs resumes.
A spokesperson for the venue said: “Some of our team members will be wearing face coverings during events. They are doing his because face coverings work.
"If you want to reduce your contribution to the risk of droplet transmission, you can choose to wear a mask whenever you like during the event. No one will force you to wear a mask, you can be kind and thoughtful and choose to wear one when it isn’t convenient.”
The Horn advises those who are vulnerable to wear a mask and avoid close contact with gig-goers who have chosen not to. It is also choosing to reduce the number of tickets it sells to events, so that there is increased comfort and safety for guests.
Matt Elvidge from independent brewery and pub group Farr Brew said: “Being a hospitality business, we do welcome the relaxing of restrictions next week, however we have a duty of care to our customers and staff and we will do everything within our powers to ensure their safety amid concerns of rising infection rates.
“Throughout the pandemic, the hospitality industry has done its utmost to provide safe places for people to eat and drink in and to socialise with friends and family they haven’t seen for months. We will pull out all the stops to make sure our staff and customers feel safe, ensuring that there is space around tables, masks are worn where required and continuing our stringent cleaning practices.
“We plan on asking our staff to carry a mask with them and put them on if customers are nervous. And obviously if staff want to wear a mask, we totally support that. We will continue to clean and use hand gel and ensure space is maintained when taking orders at tables.
"We are lucky enough that some of our pubs have a considerable amount of outdoor space and we will continue to make the most of these spaces. But some pubs will return to ordering at the bar where table service is not suitable.
“It has been the toughest of times for everybody over the last 18 months and we want to do our bit to keep the hospitality industry open and ensure that our customers have the most enjoyable experience in a Covid-safe environment.”
Due to the lifting of the rules regarding numbers at parties and gatherings, Indian restaurant Infuse can now once again resume the catering arm of its business.
Owner Sameer Berry said they can now finally work to their full potential, catering for home parties and events as well as celebrations at the restaurant.
However he is wary of the public deciding for themselves about mask-wearing and would rather the Government gave stronger instruction and advice based on the scientific research: "We definitely don’t want another lockdown.”
For the past decade, Deryane Tadd’s fashion boutique The Dressing Room on the High Street has brought customers from far and wide to St Albans.
She described Freedom Day as “feeling like a significant move forward", but she added: "While it will certainly put a spring back in our step, it will also inevitably come with a little trepidation too as people and businesses adjust to the lack of restrictions that have now become part of our general day to day lives.”
Deryane acknowledges that the lifting of restrictions will be good for business and give a boost to both consumer confidence and also footfall as people increasingly return to pre-Covid life, but she added: "We will have to balance this desire for freedom with ensuring my team and customers feel safe
"So, whilst face coverings are no longer obligatory, we would prefer that customers continue to wear them in store, particularly if in close contact with a member of our team. We will not be insisting on this, but we will advise customers that this is our preferred way to move forward until we have all adapted to the easing of restrictions.”
Deryane will also continue with the Covid safety measures over which she does have full control, such as staff testing and cleaning the store.
“As an employer, I have a duty of care to my team so we will continue with twice weekly lateral flow tests for the team for as long as these are readily available and we will continue with the enhanced cleaning methods in place in all customer-facing and back of house areas.
"I will keep the screen at the till point and hand sanitiser will be on hand throughout the store for the foreseeable future.”
With a large store footprint, the fashion retailer is not too concerned about the relaxing of social distancing as she believes that her customers will naturally be distanced.
“We will use common sense and judgement on this, as the store is spacious we tend to have ample room for people to browse comfortably and safely even at peak times. All in all, July 19th is a positive move forward for everyone and one that we will embrace.”
Emma Bustamante, owner of Cositas Gifts on the High Street and Cositas Home on Holywell Hill agreed, but is also cautious about reducing safety measures.
“We will be continuing with all the same hygiene standards,” she said. She won’t be enforcing mask-wearing, but her team will carry masks should they find ourselves in close proximity to customers.
Emma is also adjusting shop hours to ensure everyone gets a chance to shop comfortably: “We will however be keeping shorter shop opening hours to accommodate private shopping at the beginning and end of the day where we will wear masks if that’s what our private shoppers prefer. It will be bookable slots.”
Jo Littlejohn of The Odyssey in London Road says the cinema is also embracing the move back to normal: “We are really looking forward to welcoming cinema goers back in greater numbers which will ensure a really positive future for the cinema.
“The events of the last 18 months made us realise more than ever about the value of a shared experience, whether at the cinema, theatre or even watching the football as a group at a large screen.
"Watching a film in the environment it was designed to be shown allows you to fully immerse yourself and forget about everything else without interruptions or distractions for a couple of hours.”
But The Odyssey is also putting a duty of care to its staff and customers at the top of its priorities and will continue its Covid regime of sanitising the venue, as well as not ditching the masks yet.
“Staff will still have full PPE available to them,” said Jo.
“Not all our staff will have been given the opportunity to have the vaccine and some of our under 18s won’t get offered it so we are asking, if possible, for customers to continue to wear masks while moving around the building. It won’t be enforced but we would be grateful to those who would do so.”
Sean Hughes, landlord of The Boot and owner of Dylan’s Kings Arms is also looking forward to getting back to normal but with restricted numbers at first to ensure staff and visitors feel comfortable with the changes.
He is also asking the people of St Albans to be mindful of the challenges involved, especially for hospitality.
“Please help your local pubs by sticking to their individual rules as some pubs may stick to table service, others won’t.
"After all, it is up to the landlord/landlady of the pub what rules they decide to implement and who is allowed in their pub.
"We are very lucky that in St Albans we have an extremely powerful Pubwatch group which shares information so together we will ensure St Albans can open safely and hopefully this is the last time we have restrictions imposed on us. A huge thanks to St Albans for their continued support throughout this time.”