Operators must use the coronavirus lockdown to push their business forward and invest in the future, according to chef Michael Wignall.
The Angel at Hetton chef patron told The Caterer he had brought forward refurbishment work to make the restaurant better suited to distancing measures and would continue with plans to launch fine dining restaurant Cove.
"Chefs can't sit back and wait, doom and gloom," he said. "They've got to take the opportunity to push forward and look at their business. We certainly are."
With the Angel at Hetton closed, Wignall brought forward a refurbishment of the dining room and toilets and building of new guest bedrooms from their original planned date of January 2021.
"The toilets have been completely redesigned. There will be no cloth or paper napkins and the taps, soap dispenser and hand dryers will all be automatic so there is no contact at all. It's all on the back of coronavirus. We wouldn't have done it otherwise."
Wignall was speaking to The Caterer for a feature on the future of fine dining and the changes he's implementing to food, service and safety procedures to comply with operational restrictions and anticipated changes to customer behaviour.
"What seemed alien and ludicrous will become the norm," he said. "You used to have a giggle at people in masks on holiday. It will have to be the same here with staff in masks and screens between tables. You've got to rethink and swallow your pride. If you think ‘my staff aren't wearing masks', you won't survive."
Plans to open a second restaurant, Cove, in the building opposite the Angel at Hetton, had previously been met with local resistance over fears of traffic problems, but Wignall believed the coronavirus crisis would "act in our favour".
"Any council refusing planning permission would be ludicrous," he said. "No one is investing in the area, but we're investing a lot of money at moment, and hopefully a lot more over the road.
"We've also just bought two more properties in the village, which will add a further eight guest bedrooms. This takes us from nine to 23 bedrooms in a few months. We're really pushing the business forward.
"We'll definitely open the second restaurant. It will obviously look slightly differently to our original plans, but you've got to believe things will get better.
"I don't want to run a drive through burger bar. If customers feel confident and safe, they'll come back and you've got to give them something to come back for."
Read the feature on the future of fine dining in the 29 May issue of The Caterer
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