Eating out

Eating out at Harvester (during lockdown)

Are you thinking about going out for a meal, but not sure what to expect? Then read on my dear friends.

On Saturday night, the family and my parents were excited to enjoy a bit of normalcy – we had our first meal out in 102 days! Harvester is a family favourite so that was our choice and we were excited.

But what should you expect now that lockdown is being eased – what has changed, will it be safe? Those were our initial thoughts, so below was our experience…

Booking

I booked a table online – but actually no, stop there.

I wanted a meal out with my kids but also with my mum and dad who are not within our social bubble (because neither one of them is single). So how do you eat out with someone not within your bubble? Well you have to keep 2 metres distance (or 1m plus a facemask or other measures), that appears to be the same answer to all Covid questions – always maintain social distancing.

However, when booking on the Harvester website, there is no way to request that. It asks how many people are at your table, but it does not have a facility to book more than one table in one booking, so I had to make two separate bookings and put a note in the system imploring that we are sat on tables next to each other – but not at the same table – my what a headache just to book.

Not a Harvester problem as such, but more about the complexities of “the rules”.

Next we looked forward to our meal, and even arranged to meet early in the bar for a drink, to prolong and really enjoy our first eating-out experience in many months. But alas, a few days later I received an email confirming our booking and letting us know the rules, one of which was that you are not allowed to arrive more than 5 minutes early, due to the lack of a waiting area.

Arrival

On arrival there were clearly marked entrances and exits, and Harvester were firm about you using the correct ones. There were markings on the floor denoting where you had to queue (though there was no waiting for us at 5pm) and then you were greeted by the host.

I was surprised that they did not have a screen (to protect us and them) at the hosts station and neither did they have any screens around the bar (though they are probably not required as you are not allowed to approach the bar to order). The staff were not wearing any facemasks or visors, also a surprise.

The great thing though was that they completely understood my notes in my booking and we had our own alcove within the restaurant, so it was easy for us to sit together but 2 metres apart – I really appreciated that.

Food and Drink

The waitress took our drinks orders at the table (you cannot go up to the bar); and refillable drinks were refilled by the waitress.

My dad requested his favourite ale of choice, but they had very very little choice in that area – I think only Guiness, Fosters etc. the usual bar detritus. He was not pleased, but of course they did warn us when we booked that some drinks and food may be out of stock due to supply issues – to be expected.

Salad bar – the unlimited salad bar is still there, though your waitress has to choose the items for you and place them in your bowl – yes that was strange – but what can you do? Harvester are doing their best to limit contact.

Dinner – I ordered exactly the same item I ordered the last time we were here (in January I believe), which was the Beef Rib with chips. The January visit I was surprised and delighted by how delicious the food was – it actually tasted elevated, like they had a new chef or menu, it was absolutely delicious, the chips were impeccable, I remember commenting as such.

Beef brisket back in January

However, this time, it was not as good. Neither the rib of beef or the chips were up to their usual standard; and I have to put that down to either:

  1. It was the first day they had been open in 4 months
  2. New staff/chef
  3. Lack of their usual supply of food

I hope our experience is not how the food will be in the long-term; I hope that a loss in income will not result in lower quality food, because one of the main reasons one goes to a restaurant is to enjoy superior food; not something as good as one can cook at home (though not me, my food has all of the taste of and nutritional value of a hostel mattress).

That being said the service was very good, as I always find it there; and I really love Harvester so I truly hope it survives the economic crisis.

Overall, it was lovely to get out of the the house; to feel less inprisoned and to get a taste of normal life pre-lockdown. Let’s hope that we can all continue with these little delights and get back to a little of what we had before; and dare I say it – no more lockdown. One day… soon?

I would say be prepared that it might feel a bit strange, and it might not be the same as it was before, just like everything else in this almost post-apocolyptic world that is the year 2020.

A little about Harvester…they opened their first restaurant back in 1983 and have over 220 locations around the UK (we have 2 in Milton Keynes). They are owned by the Mitchell and Butlers group.

Today Rishi Sunak announced that people will be given £10 off their food and soft drinks bill (per person) if they eat out in August (only Mondays to Wednesdays). I don’t know if Harvester will sign up for this scheme, but I hope if they do it will help them and other restaurants and cafes stay in business.

*I was not paid to review Harvester and all of the above our my own honest thoughts and feelings.

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