Unique Voices 11th Mar, 2021
(So-called) Super Saturday, 4th July 2020:
My partner and I have booked a restaurant for Saturday afternoon. As we used to go out at least twice a week before Covid 19 struck, this seems almost like a historical day, when some urban life may return to (new) normal. On our way there, it is 5 pm and there is some traffic. I notice that many people are dressed as though they are going to a wedding or an extravagant party. Clearly, it is no ordinary day. The restaurant is a large Asian fusion establishment near Oxford Street, known for delivering state of the art cocktails and small plates to share. It is already nearly full when we walk in. The tables are spreading to the pavement outside and the front ceiling to floor glass windows are fully open, though the weather is far from ‘super’ today. We are greeted in the usual way and directed to our table which is pleasantly located not far from the open front panels. We both feel some reserved excitement that this may be after all a ‘normal’ Saturday night out after nearly four months of quarantine, but of course, it is hard to miss that many things are strikingly different. All waiters are wearing a mask and gloves and when they speak to you, it sounds like they are in another room. All customers seem to be on their phones. We soon discover that this is because there are no menus and so, we are directed to download a menu on our phone too. So, back to our screens again! My partner remarks that there is no banter and despite the fact this is a large restaurant full of people, everything seems quiet! Surely, staring at screens is a factor there or perhaps people having forgotten how to talk to each other?
We order two cocktails, some edamame beans and guacamole with chips. As the waiter tries to take our order, another waitress cuts through between our table and him breaking all rules of social distancing, let alone expected courteous social boundaries, and she passes a disc with small dishes to him. ‘There’, she says before walking off quickly. He stares at what has been deposited on him and loses his concentration. It is at that moment that I know things are wrong. Our drinks arrive eventually, but the edamame beans which come significantly later look chargrilled, if not burnt. The guacamole with chips never make it to our table and another waiter goes on a hunt for us only to discover that they have never been ordered. I cannot resist remarking that for the last four months, I could produce a cocktail and guacamole with chips in my kitchen in less than ten minutes and here, we are struggling to find somebody to take our main order, let alone bring our snacks forty five minutes after.
While most diners stare silently at the traffic outside, perhaps wishing they could be outdoors merging with the crowd rather than in here, all waiters are congregating staring at the computer screen. By now, we have given up on the meal and we try desperately to get anyone’s attention so that we can pay for whatever has arrived from our order and be released. The post lockdown ‘new normal’ hardly seems like normal at all.