It’s been so long, the idea that someone else buys, cooks and serves you food and then washes up the dishes afterwards in exchange for money seems far fetched. Whenever restaurants return, we will never take them for granted again.
Food critic AA Gill used to say any restaurant that seats you promptly and immediately brings a menu, drinks and bread can then get away with an awful lot during the rest of the evening. He’s right, it’s the little things that count.
As foreign travel recedes into the distance, it matters less and less. We can’t jump on a flight for some winter sun in Tenerife but who cares when what most of us really want is just to sit in a pub with a friend or go out on a Saturday night for something to eat.
Of all the things we are denied at the moment, the warm glow provided by the hospitality sector is possibly the biggest gap in our collective enjoyment.
With lockdown set to last until at least the middle of February, chefs and restaurants have found all kinds of innovative ways to stay in business. Many have turned to home meal kits to try to give you the eating out experience when you have to eat in.
As the crisis continues, they’ve grown more popular and sophisticated. A Scots restaurant in London, Mac and Wild, are selling haggis-taco kits for nationwide delivery and Contini’s in Edinburgh are offering a Burns Supper at home for Monday with a suggested playlist to go with your three-course feast.
These ideas will get us through the dark days of January lockdown but they are no substitute for what we are missing. Ordering a pudding when you are full because you just can’t resist something delicious on the menu. That extra drink at the end of the night that is so much fun at the time but such a bad idea the next day. Celebrating a birthday or anniversary with friends or relatives around a table where everyone is happy. These human moments of joy are gone but not forgotten.
Whenever lockdown ends, the hospitality sector will be fundamentally changed by the pandemic. In the States, over 100,000 restaurants have closed permanently in the past year and here job losses in the industry are up 163 per cent.
Some changes will be for the good. Coronavirus probably spells the end of the sharing-plates phenomenon. It will also hasten the demise of the no-reservations craze where you had to queue for an hour for some badly poached eggs and a coffee hand curated in 20 minutes by a hipster called Frederico. Neither will be missed.
On Monday night, this year’s Michelin stars will be awarded at a ceremony in London. Delayed from last year, it’s a symbol of confidence that the industry will overcome the current storm.
In time it will pass thanks to the vaccine and restaurants will reopen and do what they do best, nurturing us and reminding us why life is worth living.