As we turn a corner in this life changing pandemic, the idea of socializing with friends and family at pubs and restaurants is once again becoming reality. With the progress of returning to normal and building back better, it does of course beg the question, just how social can we be when we are trying to social distance?
For months we, as a country, have been unable to go out and meet up with friends. Late night drinking sessions in your favorite club or a boogie on the dance floor till the early hours of the morning becoming something of a memory. With lots of people enjoying socializing from the comfort of their own homes, these struggling establishments are hopeful that the pull of having someone else cook for you or enjoying a glass of cold wine in a beer garden on a summer’s evening, will soon have us queuing up at their doors. As stated by direct Gov.uk, under the new Eat out to Help out scheme, ‘Restaurants and other establishments serving food for on-premises consumption can now sign up to a new government initiative aimed at protecting jobs in the hospitality industry and encouraging people to safely return to dining out’.
Having recently experienced end of term drinks, I was curious as to how it would feel and what the set up would be like. The arrangement of such a night, under the current circumstances, posed many different problems. No longer were we able to name a place and time without too much concern. Instead, the evening would have to be well planned with full names and dates of birth taken from all wishing to attend. With the restriction of only six people per table and the risk of being charged should people not turn up to any tables booked, we relied heavily on the promise of colleagues to be there.
On arrival, there was of course the standard signs that we have become so accustomed to seeing. ‘Please remain one metre apart wherever possible’. The now normal antibacterial gel stations greet us at the door to remind us to clean our hands as we enter the sparse building. What was once a place packed with tables and people mingling around the bar area, now having an air of stillness to it. Thankfully with the arrival of said colleagues, the atmosphere soon began to change and we were soon on our way to feeling relaxed and ‘social’. Unfortunately this feeling comes with ambivalence; the restrictions of movement being the main culprit. It is of course completely understandable as to why this rule applies. However, after months of working within a school together, throughout the biggest world event of my entire lifetime, I can not help but feel a little deflated. I have worked in close proximity to all of these people within the social bubble of the evening, through a pandemic that changed the world and selfishly, I wanted to be able to chat to every single one of them and finish the academic year on a high.
In many bars and restaurants there are now new ways of ordering which means much less contact with bar and waiting staff. This was no different on our night out and on entry we all had to spend some time downloading the required app. What seemed like a bit of a faff at first, was actually very efficient. Payment details were added and drinks could be swiped for from the comfort of our seats. For some of the older members of our group, the idea of this was quite overwhelming, but with lots of us being able to order for them at a click of a button we didn’t let them worry about it for too long.
I would be lying if I said we behaved perfectly, that we stayed exactly on the table we started on and didn’t feel a little bit like we were speed dating throughout the evening. In truth, we tried, as best as we could. The thing is, after several drinks, it’s very hard to remember what social distancing is.
Spare a thought for your masked waiter who is having to work extra hard with their body language to make you feel at ease. As a society we crave the welcoming smile of a publican, we embrace the comfort of our local pub. This experience is not just made up from the food and drink we consume, but also from the environment we consume it in. With the reality of sitting in booths and ensuring we remain a safe distance away from others, how much will that environment be affected?
As the world becomes as contact-less as possible, both in person and with cash. We allow ourselves an insight into a possible human-less future. A future where more and more things are controlled by computers and apps. Where there is less need for human contact, where we are told this is potentially safer and where avoiding human interaction is encouraged. My biggest hope is that throughout all of this we keep our natural instinct of social contact alive and that our future generations remember what it is like to sit around a huge table of friends and family, making a nuisance of themselves as they run around the packed restaurants and stay up way past their normal bedtimes.