Behind The Scenes: The Reopening of A Restaurant

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The Road Back

Behind The Scenes: The Reopening of A Restaurant

As restaurants set up their terraces for outdoor dining (and look ahead to reopening their dining rooms in May), as diners, it can be easy to overlook the sheer amount of work involved in reopening a business.

Far from simply ordering in ingredients and reactivating a team of staff who have been waiting for the call up, the reality involves countless logistical hurdles and expenses to overcome – from staffing and supply chain issues, to the costs of providing reassurance via safety protocols – which can add up to be prohibitive for restaurants. It is also why many businesses have remained closed despite a relaxation of guidelines.

As owners and operators of a ten-strong group that includes the Michelin-starred Barrafina, taco specialists El Pastor and Casa Pastor, and legendary Soho establishment Quo Vadis, London’s Harts Group have opened plenty of restaurants in the past – but never have they reopened all of them within the same brief period of time.

We caught up with Sophie Orbaum, the group’s Communications Director, who catalogued just how much work went on behind the scenes in the run-up to the return of outdoor dining, and the Herculean task of preparing hundreds of staff to welcome the first guests on April 12th.

Start Gallery

Rebuilding during lockdown. Despite closures and a nearly five month lockdown, the shuttering of restaurants gave the Harts team an opportunity to make some overdue building updates. "Here's our maintenance team, Jakub and Chris, in the process of building a shower room for our staff to use if they cycle or run to walk on Dean Street", Orbaum says.

Image Courtesy Harts Group

Firing up the supply chain. Ops director Ben Matthews and owner Sam Hart shift part of a 12-tonne shipment of heirloom corn in Bermondsey. “Stocking up for reopening this April is not so simple as calling up the suppliers and asking to pick up where we left off – it’s almost like starting from scratch,” Matthews says.

Image Courtesy Harts Group

Staffing the restaurants. Recruitment has been a challenge, with the effects of Brexit and the pandemic leading to a major skills shortage. In addition the reopening the group's existing restaurants, a new El Pastor is scheduled to open in Soho. Here, Luca Dimitric, general manager at Quo Vadis, works to help recruit 150 new staff members to work at the new site and across the entire group.

Image Courtesy Harts Group

It starts from the top. A head office meeting, breaking down the enormous job of re-opening 10 restaurants and launching a new one into manageable tasks. "The restaurants were shut but we took care to continue the tradition of ‘family meals,’ sitting together, enjoying each other’s company and demonstrating the hospitality at the core of our company", Orbaum says.

Image Courtesy Harts Group

Deep cleaning at Barrafina. "There is much cleaning and polishing to be done, getting ready to welcome all our chefs and waiters back and to open for al fresco service on 12th April", explains Orbaum. Here, newly-promoted restaurant manager Fernanda Lozada and the Barrafina Dean Street team run a tight ship.

Image Courtesy Harts Group

Testing the new setup. Many restaurants have had to ensure their seating areas offer protection from the London weather, including test runs that double as opportunities to test new menus. Here, executive chef Angel Zapata Martin demonstrates Parrillan's eponymous outdoor grill, the parrilla, a tabletop grill for guests to cook their own ingredients to their liking.

Image Courtesy Harts Group

A review can make or break a restaurant. "Marina [O'Loughlin, Sunday Times critic] had visited in December and after a tumultuous year, it was emotional for the whole team to read so many kind words about the service, food and atmosphere. Everyone was buoyed up for the first service the day after."

Image Courtesy Harts Group

The first batch of tortillas. Owner Sam Hart with Tortilleria operations manager Farid Toumi at the group's Tortilleria in Bermondsey, with the first tortillas since Tacos El Pastor closed in December. "Behind them is our special tortilla machine imported from Mexico, that helps us roll out enough for four restaurants."

Image Courtesy Harts Group

Checking the books. Here, Ruben Nieto, head host, and Nancy Hockings-Thompson, go through the Parrillan reservations. With plenty of demand from guests after months of lockdown, most restaurants stress the importance of honouring reservations or, for those unable to, cancelling in advance to allow businesses the opportunity to fill their place.

Image Courtesy Harts Group

The return of the Barrafina specials board. "Percebes! These prehistoric looking things are also known as goose barnacles and are a Galician specialty." Orbaum enthuses. "They will be on the re-opening specials board at Barrafina Dean Street. We only ever serve big, fully grown ones, but this year they are particularly huge because of restaurants being closed and demand being lower."

Image Courtesy Harts Group

Sounding the alarm. Along with the logistics of reopening the group's restaurants, Orbaum and communications manager Harriet Matley ensure regulars and new guests alike are made aware via the appropriate channels. "We should probably get those covers framed", she laughs.

Image Courtesy Harts Group

Adding the final touches. "The Drop, our Coal Drops Yard wine bar, lit up and almost ready for an evening of wine, cheese, meats, oysters and, most importantly, guests".

Image Courtesy Harts Group

Catching up at the French House on reopening day. "A quick break to say hi to the neighbours and wish everyone luck."

Image Courtesy Harts Group

Barrafina reopens. Pictured: sous chef Gabriel Herrera, junior sous chef Vytautas Janulis, and commis chef Sandra Damary Flores ready for the first service on the terrace at Barrafina Dean Street.

Image Courtesy Harts Group

A beautiful sight: The first plate of tuna tostadas to go out on the Plaza Pastor terrace on reopening day.

Image Courtesy Harts Group

Re-opening night at Parrillan. "If every night is like this for the foreseeable, we will be an extremely happy team," she says. "It’s wonderful to be back."

Image Courtesy Harts Group

The Road Back

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