Social distancing the Marble Arch way

We invited businesses from a variety of sectors to join us on 6 May 2020 for a virtual discussion on social distancing. With some BID members open for business and others wanting to learn from them, representatives from hotels, venues, clubs, offices, supermarkets, banks, cafes and pubs shared their experiences, perceptions and challenges as we work as a district towards the end of lockdown and through to recovery.

Social distancing guidelines

It is evident from our conversation with local businesses that the Government needs to provide accurate guidelines, but businesses will need to do more to ensure employees, customers and guests feel safe, even more so in the hospitality and retail sectors.

Guidelines must be communicated clearly and repeated constantly, both for employees and guests.

Businesses must keep records of how they are following Government guidelines. For instance, hotels are only allowed to accommodate key workers and individuals who can’t access their main residence. One of our local hotels currently requires evidence from an Embassy (stating their compatriot is stranded) or a letter from the key worker’s employer.

Social distancing at M&S Edgware Road

Social distancing measures

Businesses that are currently open commented that most people are following social distancing measures and are happy to wait to get into a shop for instance, however both customers and staff need to be constantly reminded of the guidelines in place, signage strategically placed around the business can be useful.

Some of the measures discussed included:

  • External floor stickers on pavements.
  • Internal floor stickers in offices, hotels, shops etc.
  • PPE for staff that are in contact with the public.
  • Hand sanitiser stations at all entrances and exits.
  • Thermal scanning at entrances.
  • Digital thermometers for staff who are in contact with the public. Employees would need to take their temperature at home before they leave for work.
  • One way in / one way out systems.
  • One person maximum in lifts.
  • Contactless payments only in the retail and hospitality sectors.
  • One-way system – One local supermarket stated that they trialled a one-way system in store, which worked well in theory, but in reality it was more of a hindrance than a benefit. Even the best one-way system will have pinch points including the pay point, and customer behaviour is such that people end up going back on themselves or having to go round again, meaning more people stood outside waiting.

Partitions at Pret, Praed Street

All sectors are facing or foreseeing similar challenges

  • Increased costs due to implementation of social distancing measures.
  • Communal spaces tend to be less spacious and therefore high-risk: lifts, corridors, reception areas, and toilets. Signage may be required in these areas to remind people of social distancing.
  • Every business will need to assess what works best for their layout.
  • All local businesses in attendance agree that they are facing similar challenges and that social distancing is here to stay for the next six months at the very least, so it is worth investing in social distancing measures.
  • Businesses will have far less control when lockdown is lifted. Who will be able to help with managing external queues when footfall increases?
  • There are many unknowns and businesses do not yet know what the next few months will look like. Businesses will need to adapt quickly to this ever changing situation.

Hospitality, retail and tourism

The main challenges are or will be:

  • Managing queuing systems post-lockdown when all shops re-open and share narrow pavements.
  • Increased costs due to new cleaning regime, PPE for staff and single use packaging and cutlery.
  • Changing the way meals are served in hotels, moving to pre-packaged food, with limits on the volume of packaging that can be bought at the moment.
  • Sustainability issues due to single use packaging and cutlery.
  • Shorter trading hours due to staff absences.
  • How to be profitable whilst following social distancing measures.
  • Back of house teams in the hospitality industry will have a hard time following social distancing measures. Making sure chefs can work safely in tight spaces will be a challenge.
  • Is this the end to buffet dining in hotels and venues? If venues can get the flow right, ask guests to wear gloves and reduce contact points with utensils, then it might be possible.
  • Smaller hotels face even more challenges – single staircase, small single lift, one entrance / exit, narrow corridors.
  • Restaurants are looking at how people are served and seated. If staff have to serve from 2m away, one option would be to place an order on a nearby table for guests to pick it up but this would then ruin the guest experience. Would service charge/tips become a thing of the past when guests have to pick up their order themselves?
  • The hospitality sector may need to become more digitalised with apps where customers can order and pay in advance to limit contact to the minimum.

Tourism in London will not be able to start until restaurants, bars and retail re-open; visitors need a place to shop, eat and drink to enjoy their stay. Hotels do not expect to get back to pre-pandemic levels until Spring 2021.

Social distancing at The Hilton London Metropole


Visit our COVID-19 Resource Centre for more information on social distancing.

Social distancing the Marble Arch way
Social distancing the Marble Arch way