Thu. Jan 20th, 2022

It was once an unexplained agreement that underpinned the restaurant business that, in exchange for your habit, you would feed well and perhaps leave with a smile on your face. During your meal, the restaurant would take care of your coat, your umbrella and any shopping or briefcase.

Yet, while the first part of this bargain continued, the second declined. Fewer and fewer restaurants are working with a full-time receptionist, let alone a full-time locker room attendant. There is also increasing pressure on “behind-the-scenes” space, as restaurants pop up in smaller units in what used to be shops, warehouses and even coal depots. Increasing numbers of restaurants have taken a more casual approach to eateries, no matter how strong the final bill is. Customers are increasingly being asked to hang their own coats or even to keep them on their chairs.

This shift was led by numbers. In terms of space, outdoor restaurants used to be 40 percent behind the house, 60 percent in front of the house. In the past there was plenty of space for decent toilets, staff changing rooms, an extensive kitchen, wine storage and of course a dressing room near the reception. Yet, for a few years, this ratio drops to 30:70, as restaurateurs, who face higher rents, have tried to maximize the number of potential customers at the expense of, well, everything else.

As Richard Coraine, special adviser to Danny Meyer’s New York USHG restaurants, put it to me in November: “Our locker room planning has definitely changed given the need for space use over time and the casual population clinging to their coats. I also think it might be a time issue where people do not want to wait to pick up coats and are on their way just as soon as possible. I have seen spaces function as ‘manager offices’ and then used for coats during the cold months. The need for storage, wine and sales space has made coats a secondary proposition. ”

Rents in New York are extremely high and restaurateurs have to balance the difficult action of providing what the customer wants with affordability. They should at least provide a suitable kitchen and a place for storing precious bottles of wine behind the house.

Rising wages also played a role. A dressing room attendant was busy for 30 minutes at the beginning of the afternoon service, slightly longer in the evening and then rushed off her feet at the end. In between, they are invariably understaffed. Payment came earlier through wages supplemented with cash fees that were generous in the winter months, especially over Christmas, but negligible in the summer. Cash tips have disappeared in many places, while the need to make the receptionist more productive has become a necessity. Therefore, many newer restaurants have no dedicated receptionist or greeter. Instead, the job of greeting tends to fall on the waiter who happened to be the closest at that time.

When I spoke to Matt Ashman, head of leisure and restaurants at real estate agents Cushman & Wakefield, he agreed that this is a trend that is likely to continue. “Since the restriction, restaurateurs have been looking at properties again, but with two key priorities. The first is that the space should provide for outdoor seating and the second is that there should be the ability to serve takeaway deliveries. I just do not believe that any new restaurant’s provision to look after coats, bags or even my Brompton bike is any longer a restaurant’s priority. ”

Throwing away the locker room can also have legal benefits. According to Marcus Barclay, a partner of the law firm CMS, if a restaurant’s dressing room accepted something from the customer, the restaurant actively took responsibility for taking care of the things that the customer entrusted to that care ”. However, if the customer hangs their coat completely from their table and it is then stolen, the restaurant is not liable.

The move to a more relaxed style of dining in buildings that do not have the space for locker rooms, or their servants, seems unstoppable. So keep the Burberry raincoat at home and rather wear the second best jacket.

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