Chef patron of Bury St Edmunds restaurant 1921 Zack Deakins asks customers to appreciate Covid restrictions are tough for everyone and help him and his staff get back to creating happy memories
It’s been a mad, mad month and our world feels a little upside down.
Our business is hospitality and the new restrictions feel, well, a little inhospitable. Everything has become a bit of a balancing act – like making a hollandaise combining the two ingredients can be tricky, and it doesn’t take much to make them split.
It’s a lot to think about and a constant worry, so please indulge me while I take this opportunity to talk about some of the experiences we have had and the way it has affected us, like so many in our industry. It is by no means meant to be a moan, the restrictions are (I hope) there for a reason and if they are indeed going to save lives and get us out of all this quickly and safely, then I will happily follow them to the letter.
The big changes have been track and trace, the 10pm curfew and masks now needing to be worn whenever you are not sat at your table, and, of course, all our staff now wear masks. We are even wearing masks in the kitchen. As this is not an area the public have access to we are not legally required to, but put quite simply, it felt the right thing to do.
Track and trace is simple, as I am sure many people are aware. When you arrive you simply hold the camera on your phone up to the QR code provided by the business. This has caused little to no problem. Those that can’t or don’t want to use this, we simply take their details. The other two however. . .
Asking someone to leave just as they are putting their fork down on the last course of a tasting menu is grim. It is unnatural, awkward and against everything I believe we are here for. Once a upon a time it would have been our favourite part of the evening. A chance to have a chat with our guest about their evening or, to be honest, whatever the conversation led to. This is when we have really got to know people and guests have become friends. Asking them to leave feels wrong. People don’t want to go, and we don’t want them to go.
There is inevitability a mad panic at about ten to as everyone wants to settle up. Most people are wonderfully understanding. However, there is always an exception to the rule – one lady’s comment the other day was painful to hear. As her table was asked to pay the bill, she said: “I bet the staff are loving this, getting to finish early.” I can honestly say this is simply not true. I do this because I love it, I believe my team are the same, but the truth about a job is you also need to get paid from it to support the rest of your life. We have already had to cut down the number of people we can have in the restaurant and now we are cutting down the amount of time people spend with us. All of this means less hours for staff and therefore less money.
No, we are not ‘loving it’.
As to masks. I never wanted to make the staff wear masks, but hear we are. I hate telling guests they have to wear them, but it isn’t our choice. There have been some comical responses when we have asked people to put their masks on though. We have had ‘Oh sorry I’m not from around here’ to one couple hatching an elaborate plan to share their mask. They suggested one of them walked in with the mask on. Sat down and then threw the mask on the floor. We would then pick the mask up and take the mask out to the other person. They suggested the same could be done in reverse when they were ready to leave, and they promised they wouldn’t need the loo while they were with us.
You couldn’t make it up.
With all this going on I am not ashamed to say I have found it hard to think about food this month, to enjoy the creative process. There has just been too much other junk up top. However, my favourite dish has to be the Lamb Loin with Jerusalem artichokes, girolles and mustard seed. It comes with my little play on a shepherd’s pie. Braised lamb shoulder topped with the most buttery mash and a gruyere and anchovy cracker. This dish is so many things on one plate that I truly love to eat.
So here we are, muddling through this, still trying to create a space with wonderful food and, hopefully, amazing memories to allow you to forget the craziness of 2020. We just need a bit more help than we normally would.
At the end of the day these are not our rules, they are law.
So, if I can ask one thing, if you are thinking of eating out anytime soon (and I hope you are) just think nobody likes to be told what to do, so if you don’t give us a reason to, we won’t have to. Then we can all get on with the job of making happy memories x
Zack Deakins is chef patron of 1921 Angel Hill in Bury St Edmunds
Call 01284 704870