How the government defines physical distancing will have a huge impact on the viability of hospitality operations emerging from lockdown, MCA’s The Conversation has heard.

D&D London CEO Des Gunewardena said the distinction between staying two metres apart and one metre apart was the difference between whether it was worth reopening or not.

He said modelling at his restaurant and bar group had shown at two metres, capacity would be down to as much as 35%, whereas at one metre, as per WHO guidance, it would by a more manageable capacity reduction to 60% or 70%.

Gunewardena told the virtual event creative solutions, such as terraces and outside spaces, could be part of the solution to operating under restrictions.

But he insisted it was essential to resume operations even with restricted covers, in order to head down the path of normality.

“We will try and do anything to make it work, providing we don’t lose a lot of money,” he said.

On the varying guidance and requirements of social distancing, he said: “That one metre distinction is very important. When you look at it, people say there’s no medical proof that there’s much of a difference.

“If you assume customers will be confident to come back to restaurants, then one or one and half metres becomes workable.”

Also appearing at the event, Dishoom CEO Shamil Thakrar said he and his team had looked at various different layout scenarios, but that the prospects did not look good.

He said: “We’re finding we’re at 50% or 60% capacity in some cases. The way we operate doesn’t make it easy to make money in that way.

“We have large sites, which is nice, because it means you can get lots of people in there, but it’s also a problem because it means higher fixed costs.”

“It’s not at all clear that it’s a sutainable way of operating, we will have to figure out we to do it.”

Thakrar said key to a successful return would be harnessing the brand’s culture and engagement with its customers.

He added: “We didn’t have any big lightbulbs. I think it’s our mission when we do open to engender a massive sense of trust, so when people come in, they know they’re being looked after.”