Adapting to survive the 10pm curfew
Published 09 October 2020

Restaurants have responded to the 10pm curfew with a raft of creative ideas, writes Anna-Marie Julyan

Restaurants are taking extraordinary measures such as shortening menus, offering late night takeaway treats and opening earlier in response to the 10pm curfew for hospitality venues launched in England, Wales and Scotland at the end of September.

‘We just have to be super adaptable to changing things and doing what we wouldn’t normally do,’ says Amy Corbin, co-founder of south London restaurants Kudu Collective. ‘We’re all praying this can come to an end in the near future.’ At Kudu they have simplified the evening service to just two sittings at 6pm and 8pm, and started opening for Thursday lunch. Lunches have become more popular as people work from home, she explains.

It’s the same story in Devon at Michael Caines’ hotel Lympstone Manor. In the evening people now need to book earlier, between 5pm and 7pm, for one of his tasting menus making leisurely lunches an attractive alternative. His restaurants in Porthleven and Maenporth, Cornwall are also open an hour earlier in the evening. ‘What’s happening a lot is that many non-residents are switching to come for a tasting menu at lunch instead of dinner,’ says Michael. ‘The season has been incredibly busy for Devon and Cornwall with people going on staycation. But we recognise it’s a tale of two different circumstances, with restaurants closing in cities like London.’

Bubala opened just a year ago serving Middle Eastern feasts in the heart of London’s Spitalfields. Weekday lunches have been quiet since reopening post lockdown, says founder Marc Summers. Instead, they have slimmed down their evening offer to a set menu of sharing dishes called ‘Bubala Knows Best’. The only times diners can deviate is for Sunday lunch or on ‘Mezze Mondays’. ‘The worry of just doing a set menu is that it’s limited but the reaction has been really good and a help to us,’ says Marc. ‘Where we are is full of offices and workers haven’t come back. When we first reopened we were serving lunch but it was quite clear there weren’t enough people around. Now we’re only open for lunch at the weekend.’

The curfew has inspired new meal occasions too, such as the Curfew Supper at London restaurant Wild Honey. Only available from 8.45pm, it’s a plat du jour, such as slow-cooked rabbit simmered in white wine and mustard with autumn vegetables, and a small carafe of wine for £20.

At Wood in Manchester run by MasterChef 2015 winner Simon Wood, diners can take their cheese course home with them. Wood for the Road comprises a selection of cheese, sourdough crackers and a bottle of wine for £25 (enough for two people).

In order to get diners through the door earlier, some are offering incentives, such as a reduced-price menu at Mayfair Indian restaurant Gymkhana. Eat between 5pm and 6pm Tuesday to Thursday, or on Friday and Saturday between 4pm and 5.30pm and you'll get two courses for £25 or three courses for £30.

It’s not all plain sailing. On paper a 10pm curfew sounds ‘reasonable’ but for many businesses it translates into anything up to 50% less trade, says David Carter, chef and founder of Smokestak restaurant. He does take home gelato or sticky toffee pudding in the evening and, like others, has developed a menu that can be delivered nationally. David fears, however, that the curfew could send the wrong message to diners. ‘The other less-than-obvious consideration is the fear “the broader message” instills in the hospitality industry,’ he says. ‘If the wider public loses confidence in the safety of restaurants, bars and pubs through government messaging – and believes the virus is a real threat in these settings – we may struggle to fill that 8pm booking slot or others.’