25 May 2022

Many Derry restaurants booked out this weekend as they prepare to reopen after the lockdown

'Quite a buzz' as people look forward to getting back out to sample the city's best food

soda and starch

Soda and Starch Head chef Raymond Moran pictured with Chris Moran and Kim Murray .

Derry's restaurants are reopening tomorrow after 15 weeks in lockdown, but if you want to book a table you better be quick.

Many local eateries are already fully booked with the rest reporting high demand, but with strict new health and safety measures in place what will the new dining experience look like?

Soda and Starch in Derry's Craft Village is booked out this weekend and Head Chef Raymond Moran has taken the decision to move all of his tables outside to the sheltered and heated courtyard area.

Tables have been spaced to allow for social distancing and staff will take customers to their pre-booked table.

Mr Moran and his business partner Ciaran O'Neill, managing director of Bishop's Gate Hotel, which is also fully booked this weekend, have been working on plans to reopen for four weeks.

"We had to look at every possible scenario," said Mr Moran.

"We're working harder than ever, but now we are looking forward to getting out there and showcasing it to our customers.

"We're really lucky that we have this outside space and it will make staff and customers more comfortable.

"We'll have the table ready for you and someone will come and look after you.

"We want them to feel relaxed and to be treated the way they should be."

Mr Moran said customers are ready to return to restaurants, but believes social habits may have to change.

"You can feel the excitement," he said.

"They want to be served and looked after.

"But the days of ringing up at 4pm on a Saturday to get a table for that night are gone.

"People will have to plan ahead and the social Saturday night may have to be spread out over the seven nights of the week."

Suki Nagra, the owner of Saffron Indian restaurant on Carlisle Road, has more than halved his tables from 32 to 14 to allow for social distancing.

Diners will now use the top floor of the premises while the downstairs area will be used for 'holding tables' where customers can have a drink.

Saffron will also have an additional eight tables in its newly-revamped outside area.

"It will avoid congestion and mean we don't have too many people passing each other," explained Mr Nagra, who has set up an online booking system for customers.

While bookings have been quite slow for this weekend the rest of the month is already filling up quickly.

Mr Nagra says some restaurants in the city will find it difficult to turn a profit with less tables.

"It is worth it for us because we have a takeaway service that is a very strong part of our business so our kitchen is working already," he said.

"Restaurants need to be packed at the weekend.

"It's a numbers game.

"Labour is the biggest cost and if you are paying for labour and no one comes in you are in serious trouble."

Fitzrory's on Bridge Street and Quaywest on  Boating Club Lane will open their doors on July 14 and are currently putting measures in place to keep staff and customers safe.

"Things have been a wee bit chaotic so we have decided to see how things pan out and not just open to get people in," Paul McGinley, Bar Manager at Quay West explained.

"We have quite big premises so we are able to space tables out, it means losing some tables but that's the way it has to be.

"There will be a maximum of 6 people to a table and there will be screens between the booths for people's peace of mind and hand sanitiser available.

"The emails are flying in from customers looking to book a table."

Elsewhere in  the city bookings are coming in thick and fast.

Olga Henry, General Manager at Davinci's Hotel on the Culmore Road where the bar will be open to serve food from tomorrow, said bookings are 'rolling in'.

At Strand Road, restaurant Brown's in Town manager Serena Macari confirmed there was very limited availability on Friday and Saturday evening, but there were still some lunch time slots available.

"There has been quite a buzz," she said.

"Everyone has cabin fever and they are looking to get out and about again."

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for The Exchange at Queen's Quay said they were already 'relatively full' for this weekend with more availability at lunch time.

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