“May I take your coat?” »Why the restaurant cloakroom goes out

It used to be an unspoken pact underpinning the restaurant business that, in exchange for your custom, you would walk away well fed and perhaps with a smile on your face. During your meal, the restaurant would take care of your coat, umbrella, shopping or towel.

However, while the first part of this market continues, the second is shrinking. Fewer and fewer restaurants operate with a full-time receptionist, let alone a full-time locker room attendant. There is also increasing pressure on ‘back home’ space, as restaurants spring up in smaller units in what were once shops, warehouses and even coal yards. A growing number of restaurants have taken a more casual approach to dining, no matter how heavy the final bill may be. Increasingly, customers are encouraged to hang their own coats or even keep them on the backs of their chairs.

This change was led by the numbers. In terms of space, fine dining restaurants were once 40% at the back of the house, 60% at the front of the house. In the old days, there was enough room for a decent toilet, changing rooms for staff, an elaborate kitchen, a wine cellar and, of course, a cloakroom near the reception. Yet in recent years this ratio has fallen to 30/70, as restaurateurs, faced with higher rents, have sought to maximize the number of potential customers to the detriment, well, of everything else.

As Richard Coraine, Special Advisor to Danny Meyer’s USHG Restaurants in New York City, told me in November, “Our locker room planning has definitely changed given the need to use space over time and time. occasional population that clings to its coats. I also think it could be a time issue where people don’t want to wait to pick up coats and just be on their way ASAP. I have seen spaces function as “manager’s offices” and then be used for coats during the colder months. The need for storage, wine and retail space made coats a secondary proposition.

Rents in New York are extremely high, and restaurateurs must strike a balance between the delicate act of providing what the customer wants and affordability. At the very least, they should provide a suitable kitchen and a place to store precious bottles of wine in the back of the house.

Rising wages also played a role. A locker room keeper is busy for 30 minutes at the start of the lunch service, a little more in the evening and rushed at the end. In between, they are invariably under-occupied. Previously, payment was through wages supplemented by cash tips that were generous during the winter months, especially Christmas, but negligible in the summer. Cash tips have disappeared in many places, while the need to make the receptionist more productive has become imperative. As a result, many new restaurants do not have a dedicated receptionist or receptionist. Instead, the greeting job tends to fall on the server who happens to be closest at that time.

When I spoke to Matt Ashman, recreation and dining manager at Cushman & Wakefield Realtors, he agreed that this was a trend that was likely to continue. “Since the confinement, restaurateurs are looking again to the properties but with two key priorities. The first is that the space must be provided with outdoor seating and the second is that there must be the capacity to serve take-out deliveries. I just don’t think that a new restaurant to take care of coats, bags or even my Brompton bike is more of a restaurateur’s priority.

Throwing out the locker room can also have legal advantages. According to Marcus Barclay, partner at CMS law firm, if “a restaurant’s locker room has accepted something from the customer, then the restaurant has actively accepted the responsibility of taking care of the things the customer entrusts to it.” If, however, the customer hangs up his coat when he sees his table and it is subsequently stolen, the restaurant is not responsible.

The move towards a more casual dining style in buildings that do not have space for changing rooms, or their attendants, seems unstoppable. So, better keep the Burberry raincoat at home and wear the best jacket instead.

About Ronda Reed

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