The great outdoor dining experiment

Enfield Council closed a part of The Green to traffic to enable outdoor dining in Winchmore Hill
Enfield Council closed a part of The Green to traffic to enable outdoor dining in Winchmore Hill

Neil Littman on how local eating establishments adapted after the first lockdown – and how they might recover from the second

Since the start of the pandemic, big changes have been made by the hospitality industry as it seeks to adapt to new restrictions.

More residents are staying home and using nearby amenities, which include The Green in Winchmore Hill. During the first lockdown we suddenly had impromptu family picnics and people eating their lunch on the seating areas.

This was supported by one of the cafes, Nespresso, which began doing takeaways, while Going Greek also provided home deliveries. But of the six food outlets in the area, four of them remained closed for three months. Buckle and Vaughn probably had the most difficult issues, being primarily a sit-down restaurant.

When local restaurants and cafés were finally allowed to fully re-open in July, businesses needed to re-engage with the community and find ways to survive and recoup the financial hit they took during months of closure.

Most of the eating establishments in Winchmore Hill are independently owned and they re-opened in different ways. There was greater demand for outdoor seating, where little or none had existed previously.

After the local residents’ association petitioned councillors, Enfield Council agreed to allow outdoor seating on the slip road of The Green, closing it off at both ends for a period of six months. If this had not happened with the speed it did, several of the dining outlets could have easily gone out of business.

The council would not allow any permanent structures to be erected to protect diners from the elements if the weather got bad, but some places were allowed umbrellas and collapsible shelters that could be removed and stored. More importantly, restaurants adapted their offers to suit the changing circumstances. Most served some sort of takeaway menu, in addition to what they had been doing previously.

The Larder took a radical approach, becaming a bar and paella venue with evening openings, in addition to serving breakfast and lunch. It also made alterations to its garden area and overhauled its menu. New chefs were taken on and more outdoor seating provided, plus a gazebo erected on The Green.

Hopper & Bean opened with an expanded take away menu, including vegan sausage rolls from Cornwall that provided serious competition for Greggs! It also established an outdoor eating area..

A few of the businesses signed up to the government’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme. It was something that Buckle and Vaughn benefited from enormously – they even decided to continue the scheme on their own initiative until November.

Going Greek operated continuously during the whole period, and on Friday evenings seemed to be the venue of choice for the local police force. It was good that customers were happy to adapt as well.

A major factor that helped at first was the weather. It stayed consistently warm and dry for nearly two months. But the weather changed for the worse in late August and September, resulting in little or no outdoor dining.

This raises doubts for how hospitality businesses will cope after the end of the second lockdown. If no shelter is provided, it is feared the whole point of removing traffic from this part of The Green will be lost, as customers will no longer wish to eat or drink outside.

The council will decide early next year whether the outdoor dining scheme will operate indefinitely. Winchmore Hill Residents Association (WHRA) is seeking to identify what specific measures are required to maintain the successes of the experiment over the winter months and wants to work collaboratively to develop broad proposals for further improvements.

To get involved with discussions around the future of The Green:
Visit whresidents.org