Easing lockdown restrictions: is table service really better than ordering at the bar?

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Lucy Robinson
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Easing restrictions: is table service really better than ordering at the bar?

More convenient or putting a dampener on the bar experience? Stylist readers argue for and against table service vs ordering at the bar once restrictions have been lifted.

In what’s become almost routine, on Monday 5 July Boris Johnson addressed the nation and set out the government’s strategy to ease the remaining Covid-19 restrictions in England.

Though confirmation of the lifting of restrictions won’t be announced until today (12 July), with 19 July being widely dubbed as ‘freedom day’, it’s expected that the next stage of the roadmap will signal a return to normality – if that’s possible – with most existing restrictions being removed.

Where hospitality businesses have been required to exclusively provide table service, it’s anticipated that this will no longer be enforced, with all social distancing restrictions being scrapped and the wearing of face coverings no longer being a legal requirement.

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Despite this announcement, there have been mixed responses from businesses across the country as to whether they will abandon Covid prevention measures come 19 July.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Clive Watson, chief executive of the City Pub Group – which owns 45 pubs across the UK – said that his pubs will be urging customers to follow the existing measures even as restrictions are eased. “What we don’t want is a free-for-all scrum at the bar, with lots of people queuing up,” he said.

“It’s not like flicking a switch back to February 2020… We’re not going to say you cannot order at the bar, but we’re going to make it as easy as possible to continue to order, whether it’s through our app or at the table.”

Other chains, such as JD Wetherspoon who introduced its app back in 2017, have announced that bar service will return, telling Morning Advertiser that: “We are looking forward to serving customers at the bar, but still expect table service to be an important feature of our pubs.”

But it’s not just pub owners who are split on which method to adopt – women across the country are too.

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For Cate Jackson, 26, a blogger from Canterbury, being unable to order at the bar has been yet another blow to single people, signalling the end of flirtatious nights out. “As a single woman, it’s where you have a cute little casual conversation with the fit lad you’ve been making significant eye contact with all night, without either of you having to have the balls to approach each other’s table,” she says.

Now flirting is a little less spontaneous and a little more clinical, says Cate. “I’ll come to your table, pretend I don’t have a lighter, ask to use yours, if you don’t make your move that’s on you – it’s a lot less cool.”

Some feel like being unable to order at the bar has been yet another blow to single people, and could signal the end of flirting in pubs.
Some feel like being unable to order at the bar has been yet another blow to single people, and could signal the end of flirting in pubs.

Though this may seem trivial for people in relationships, this social aspect is something that many women relate to. As an extrovert, Rebekah Harding, 25, a sales assistant from Birmingham, cites standing at the bar as being the highlight of a night out.

“I went out a few weeks ago and I was staring at the bar, wishing I was standing at it,” she says. “I miss meeting new faces and hearing new stories – I once got bought a bottle of Veuve champagne by a random group I’d befriended. If I wasn’t standing at the bar, that wouldn’t have happened.”

But in addition to socialisation, other women are missing the immediacy of being able to go up to the bar and return to their table, drinks in hand.

For Jo Porter, 36, a healthcare worker from Leicestershire, flagging down waiting staff to get their attention carries connotations of being demanding – something which has resulted in her spending prolonged periods of time waiting to get served.

“I prefer ordering at the bar and feel more comfortable speaking up if staff pass over me as they’re right in front of me,” she says. “Going to the bar automatically implies that I want service and takes away the need for me to shout about it, which makes me feel less rude.”

Lauren Hutchinson thinks that table service is more personal.
Lauren Hutchinson thinks that table service is more personal an experience.

From a server’s perspective, this is something that Claire Freeman, 24, from Sunderland, has seen first-hand. “I get shouted at, waved at, whistled at, tapped, have empty glasses raised at me from people expecting another. This doesn’t happen behind a bar,” she says.

“You also can’t engage with the customers, so the interaction you do get is from people complaining they’ve been waiting too long.”

But not everyone feels the same, with some women hailing the increased dependence on apps and table service as helping make experiences more inclusive and less anxiety inducing.

As someone who admits that finding time to socialise is difficult, Georgi Scurfield, 29, a filmmaker from Nottingham, says that table service means that when she does go out, she can spend more time chatting to her friends since conversations aren’t disrupted by trips to the bar.

“It’s come at the perfect time in my life – I’m not interested in finding strangers to talk to like I used to,” says Georgi. “It’s hard for me to carve out time to spend with my friends because we’re all so busy, so when we do find time to get together, I want to be fully focused on the people around me.”

Georgi Scurfield believes that the move will make people more sociable.
Georgi Scurfield believes that the move will make people more sociable.

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Like many things in the pandemic, table service and apps have been welcomed as helping increase accessibility within hospitality.

“As an introverted, neurodiverse woman, I find paying at the bar can take forever as I get ignored and I’m too polite to say anything,” says Lauren Hutchinson, 36, a café owner from Manchester.

“Table service is more personal. I feel like the person taking your order is completely focused on you. Task switching is something that I find draining, so the more focus someone has on a task I need to complete with them, the easier it is for me.”

Melissa Parker, 29, a writer from Lancaster agrees. As a wheelchair user, the shift has allowed her to worry about fewer things.

“Disabled people have to think about every eventuality, every consequence. If no one was willing to help, could I do this alone? Would I drop it? Should I change my order to one that is easier to carry? Table service means that I don’t have to weigh up options,” she says. “It’s quite liberating not to have to think about that.”

As a wheelchair user, Melissa Parker thinks the shift has allowed her to worry less.
As a wheelchair user, Melissa Parker thinks the shift has allowed her to worry less.

It seems that no matter which way you look at it, there are pros and cons of both options, with each catering to different circumstances. But with bars being able to make their own minds up moving forward, here’s to hoping that how we order will be a choice, not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Images: Getty/ Lauren Hutchinson / Georgi Scurfield/Melissa Parker

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Lucy Robinson

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