1,5-meter society will not work for the hospitality business

A column by Tijn de Bruin

Several viral videos have been spreading throughout social media of Dutch citizens. Dutch celebrity Nicolette van Dam working at her café, throwing drinks to the tables from one-and-a-half-meter distance. A bar owner from Rotterdam doing the same thing. These videos are a cry for help: the 1,5-meter society after the corona crisis will not work for them. As being a waiter myself at a restaurant in the Vondelpark, I like to get close to my guests, talk to them and make them feel comfortable. How will this be possible in a post-corona society? 

The hospitality business has already been hit hard due to the corona crisis: restaurants have been forced to close abruptly, the numbers of hotel guests are slim to none, and clubs are shut and empty. Just when the beginning of spring is such a profitable period for them. It is the time where terraces are full almost every single day.

I look forward to this outdoor season every year. I work in a restaurant in the Vondelpark with a huge terrace. Going back to that terrace for the first time in the year is such a wonderful time for people who love working in a restaurant, like me. Finally, I have something to do; no folding napkins all day long, but full-time service in the sun. Only not this year. Besides that; with my zero-hour contract, I have no income. Luckily, I live with my parents. 

As of now, it is expected for restaurants and cafés to open on May 20th. But the catch is that we still have to keep the one-and-a-half-meter distance. Totally understandable, but how can we make that possible in a business that thrives on being personal and close to the guest?

One solution I heard of came from a beach bar owner. He had his tables placed so that they were one-and-a-half-meter apart. A small side table was placed next to these tables, with enough distance of course. The guests can order via the waiter and the drinks and food will be placed on the side table. The guests can take their order from that table without ever being in contact with the waiter. 

Another solution came from my own manager. There is this app for the hospitality industry called Jamezz. Guests can take a seat on the terrace and place an order trough this app. The bar and kitchen staff will receive a notice that a certain order needs to be made. When this order is done, the guest will get a notification that they can pick it up at the bar. Again, without ever being in contact with a waiter. 

Smart solutions if you ask me, but they have some weak spots. As said before, for me this work is not just about providing my guests with food and beverages. It is all about making a connection with the guest and making them as comfortable as possible: Oh, you’re having the steak? Can I suggest you this wine? Would you like to taste it? Look at this ruby colour! When I have to do this from one-and-a-half-meter meter distance, it just does not give the same experience.

Besides that, some people have been careless with keeping their distance. On a busy Sunday, there is a big chance that the distance rule will be broken at least more than twenty times. Which can result in me catching the virus at one table and bringing it to another in just a few seconds. 

Now, I am not trying to say that an exception should be made for the hospitality business. I am shining light on how hard this branch has been hit and that the fight against this virus will not be over for a long time. No one is expecting an end for restaurants, cafés and hotels, but the effects of the virus will be seen for at least three more years and they need all the help they can get. 

April, 23 2020