New Normal, New Protocols: A Deep Dive Into Metro Manila's Evolving Dining Scene
For someone who enjoys food, dining out is one of the many "normal" things I used to do (a lot of) before the world turned upside down. But, sadly the pandemic has forced most of us to stay at home and has many of our favourite activities including dining out and travel have been deeply affected, unexpectedly and in many ways.
As restaurants reopen their doors, I picked the brains of seasoned restaurateurs and industry leaders to find out how they are adapting to the new normal, and to learn what they think is next for the dining scene in the country.
"People are scared to go out because of the virus it is still around. People have made so much effort in three months to stay away so they will think twice before even deciding to go out. Especially the people who are going to high end restaurants like metronome for example. Little coffee shops and smaller establishments may have it different. But with high end restaurants targeting the A and B market, I am not sure if it is a priority of our guests to go out; especially with take-out systems, people can enjoy a decent dinner at home" shares Alain Borgers, partner at Metronome (Tatler Dining's Best New Restaurant of 2020).
Under the dine-in guidelines issued last 1 June 2020 by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), restaurants and fast food chains are allowed to resume dine-in operations starting 15 June 2020. Due to the strict implementation of social distancing, the restaurants' dine-in capacity has been reduced to 30 per cent in areas under General Community Quarantine (GCQ). Seats should be placed in a way that it is at least one metre apart from other adjacent seating while long tables that used to accommodate 10 diners is now limited to only five. On top of that, tables with face-to-face seating arrangements must also have acrylic barriers between diners. Times really have changed!
Such requirements may sound negative for restaurants whose usual capacity is limited to begin with. Many need to adapt; to transform their spaces to bigger areas, such as extending to an al fresco dining set-up. La Cabrera and Txoko Asador | Restaurante co-owner, Carlo Calma Lorenzana, is grateful for having ample space in his restaurants, enabling them to accommodate relatively more diners despite the strict guidelines. "We have the luxury of making wider spaces between tables and staff since the format of our restaurants provides more spacious areas. All La Cabrera outposts and our newest concept, Txoko Asador | Restaurante are roomy with open spaces. We also benefit from having al fresco dining areas in La Cabrera in 6750, Makati, as well as in Bar Pintxos BGC. We expect these areas to be more attractive during these times," he says.
In this industry we exercise flexibility. We cannot do that anymore with hygiene and sanitation. If you do not have a mask, I am sorry you cannot enter. If you do not want to sign the health declaration upon entering, I am sorry you cannot enter. I am sure people will understand that... We have to be strict.
— Alain Borgers
The majority of dining outlets in Shangri-la at the Fort, Manila have been closed for the duration of enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), but they are looking to utilise table reservations more frequently to efficiently manage time in between guests now that they are starting to re-open. "Seating timings and pre-reserved reservations will become part of the new normal in many of our dining outlets. Despite these new measures, we will continue to offer the same high-quality food and excellent levels of service that our customers have come to know and love us for," says Shangri-la at the Fort, Manila area vice president for operations (Philippines), John Rice. Same thing goes for Pasong Tamo's notable dining destination: M Dining; their focus will heavily be on reservations as well. Walk-ins are not be allowed for the time being!
Moreover, Tippi Tambunting, operations manager of M Dining, said that they will be easing into opening dine-in by inviting select guests and further improving their current safety measures from there. "M Dining will be very deliberate with the opening of our doors to our guests. We will first invite friends and family to the “soft opening” of our new normal. Get their feedback and suggestions, so we can implement them properly and work towards opening seamlessly to the general public mid-July" Tippi explained.
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Additional health and safety protocols are also to be put in place for the staff such as the use of food safety apparel: hairnets or hair caps, face masks, face shields, gloves, aprons and shoe covers. Restaurant employees are also prohibited from touching food with their bare hands and are required to use protective equipment such as spatulas, tongs, single-use gloves or dispensing equipment. This is not new to those who have been operating under ECQ the past months. It is becoming more routine for many restaurateurs and chefs, and is evolving into a norm in the kitchen.
"M staff will be wearing gloves, face shields on top of the face masks (required by law) and will utilise single-use items such as menus, condiments, etc," says Tippi. "We’ve been emphasising, more than ever, cleanliness, washing of hands, wearing of masks at all times, minimal contact with each other, and daily non-contact thermal checks. One of our biggest priorities right now is trying to secure our staff’s health and safety by making sure that their daily commute to and from work is through M’s or their own private means."
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For modern French restaurant Metronome, educating their staff is a priority. It further ensures that health and safety protocols are understood and increases the chance that they will be strictly followed. "When it comes to employees what we are doing first, is education. [We need staff] to respect all hygiene protocols not only when working in Metronome but also when you leave to go home, when you are with family, friends and when you go out. We have a responsibility when inside Metronome. What you do outside of here will affect us in here. It is important to understand why we are doing this," shares Metronome partner, Alain Borgers.
Aside from temperature checks, foot baths, health declaration forms and regular hand washing, Metronome has also required their staff to change clothes when they enter the restaurant premises to minimise contact from the outside as much as possible."They will not be allowed to wear what they wear outside in the restaurant. When they arrive they will have to change clothes and shoes. They have to wear uniform and different shoes. They cannot go outside of the restaurant in the uniform and shoes either," says Alain.
The future of dine-in is complex. We have no reference of where to go or what to do because what happened to all of us is unprecedented. But my partners and I are hopeful, excited and a tad anxious about our next normal. We have strong faith that things will be better sooner rather than later.
— Carlo Calma Lorenzana
Cashless payments also seem to be on-trend as more consumers gravitate towards online and mobile banking. Although the current guidelines from DTI do allow cash transactions collected via trays, it is still highly advisable to collect payments via bank transfers and QR codes to limit contact. Many restaurants have also shifted to single-use menus. Alain shared that Metronome will also have digital menus through QR codes on top of the use of disposable paper menus.
Sanitising stations and alcohol bottles are going to be placed around these establishments, and on almost every table. In Shangri-la at the Fort's restaurants, disposable mask holders are also provided while condiments are served in individually wrapped portions.
The learning curve is steep but necessary! Carlo shared his sentiments saying that: "The future of dine-in is complex. We have no reference of where to go or what to do because what happened to all of us is unprecedented. But my partners and I are hopeful, excited and a tad anxious about our next normal. We have strong faith that things will be better sooner rather than later."
The Diner's Responsibility
Now that you can once again enjoy a freshly cooked meal straight from the restaurant's kitchen, there are a few things to keep in mind as a diner. First is to remember to never enter a restaurant, or any establishment for that matter, without wearing a mask. This ensures your safety as well as of the people around you. Second, customers whose temperature is 37.6 C and above, or show any symptoms of a cold or persistent cough, will be denied entry. Third, while in queue, customers waiting to be seated must observe strict physical distancing measures of at least one metre in between each other. Fourth, everyone is required to fill out information sheets and health declaration forms for contact tracing. I know it is a lot to do and remember and it does feel burdensome but it does not do anyone any good if we are not willing to do our part.
"In this industry we exercise flexibility. We cannot do that anymore with hygiene and sanitation. If you do not have a mask, I am sorry you cannot enter. If you do not want to sign the health declaration upon entering, I am sorry you cannot enter. I am sure people will understand that... We have to be strict" says Alain.
While the 30 per cent dining capacity is far from ideal, and far from getting restaurants back on their feet, it is in a way a good start. The F&B industry needs to go back to their roots, focus on their passion and why they started in order to weather this storm while us diners need to do our very best to be supportive. "We just need to evolve and innovate for the times but never forget what got us to where we are in the first place. We believe that the more things change, the more we should stay the same in providing good food, impeccable service, and a memorable dining experience," says Carlo.
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