First look: We went to Ou Meul Bakkery on the first day of reopening

From 29 June, restaurants could open for sit-down dining again. We went to get a taste of what eating out is like during a pandemic.

At around 4pm on the first day that restaurants could reopen their sit-down services, we popped into Ou Meul Bakkery in Pinelands for a quick coffee and a chat with the general manager, Lisa-Jane Rensburg, who answered some of our questions.

“It’s been a little bit quiet,” Lisa revealed, “which isn’t helped by the weather. I’m hoping that it starts to pick up over the weekend. It’s a really good time for them to have made the decision for us to open now because it’s month-end, so whoever is earning a salary has a little bit extra to spend.”

How does social distancing work?

“We are not allowing people to come in with more than a four-seater. Every chair has been measured 1.5m to the next closest chair, so that there is a significant distance. To make sure that people see the distance for themselves, we have put open tables between each table. And so that if two separate tables arrive at separate times, they don’t push the tables together and socialise.”

What about hygiene regulations?

“We have extremely strict head office protocols for screening and sanitisation processes, making sure that everything is up to regulation standards. I think smaller restaurants that are owner-run might have a little bit of a harder time interpreting regulations – they’re extremely vague.”

“Every single person who comes in the door, staff or customers, is screened and their information is logged. If their temperature is too high, we don’t even allow them past the door. I haven’t had pushback, but I do expect it. I think, though, if you’re not willing to put your information in, maybe you shouldn’t be going out. That is my personal opinion.”

“I’ve had to remind a couple of people coming in the door that even though you’re sitting with your friends, you have to wear your mask all the time unless you are eating or drinking. So far (it is day one) I’ve had no issues. I’ve reminded about four tables and they were like ‘Oh, sorry’ and they quickly put their mask back on.”

And menus?

“You scan a QR code that links you to an online menu. If you can’t scan, there is a website address, and there are also single-use menus.”

The big booze debate

“It’s quite frustrating. We lose a huge amount of feet in the door. Alcohol is a pretty huge percentage of our turnover and profit. It’s really tough right now to make sure your business is staying afloat. We literally are monitoring everything from the amount of water we use to electricity and gas so that we can stay afloat. We’re not thriving, we’re floating. Removing the alcohol just puts that much stress on making sure you push every sale possible.”

Is being open for sit-down dining the answer?

“At the moment, we are playing it by ear. We’re going to try sit-down. If it doesn’t work and we’re not making the same sort of turnover as we were making with just takeaways and delivery, we will go back to doing only takeaways and delivery and give up the idea of sit-down. We are going to give it this week and then we are going to sit down and see where we’ve won, where we’ve lost and what the best thing moving forward will be. A big thing is being able to open and get our staff back. Going back to a takeaway service would minimise that significantly – that would be a last resort. We’ve had absolutely no retrenchments… so we’re very lucky, but it’s only because we’ve been really strict.”

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