The hospitality sector is back in action as many restaurants, hotels and pubs across Fermanagh reopened their doors today (July 3) following the easing of certain lockdown regulations by the Northern Ireland Executive.

However, establishments that are able to reopen today, are doing so with caution. For some there will be a 'new normal', while others will have to wait a little bit longer before they are back operating again as they are unable to do so under the current easing of restrictions.

From today, the indoor spaces of pubs and bars will also be permitted to open on a table service basis while pubs and bars with outdoor spaces, such as beer gardens, will be able to serve alcohol in these spaces on a table service basis where their licence permits them to do so.

Ahead of reopening at noon today, Pat’s Bar in the Diamond and Franco’s Restaurant on the Queen Elizabeth Road were putting in the final touches this week in preparation.

It will be a new experience for the customers of both establishments as the Covid-19 restrictions, while being relaxed, still remain in place.

The usual numbers that you would see in these places will be much smaller but for Michael Cadden of Pat’s Bar it is important to have a safe and sustainable business for customers and staff.

Minimal contact between staff and customers, staff wearing visors, regular sanitisation, limiting numbers using the toilets at any one time, table service will all play a part in making sure the risk of contracting Covid-19 is minimal.

A one way system through the building with entrances at Eden Street or the Diamond and the exit on Townhall Street will be in place for those who want to have food and drink in the bar.

Inside will be open to food while the beer garden, which will have newly built pods to maintain social distancing, will have table service for drink.

“It’s about minimising contact so while we are still provide hospitality and still trying to provide an environment that people will want to go to an experience and return to whatever normal they can, we are trying to do that in as safe a way as possible,” Michael told The Impartial Reporter earlier this week.

“A lot of the protections are there in the unlikely event there is a transmission in a restaurant or bar and we are doing everything we can to minimise that risk.

“We are expecting the public to self police and understand what the risks are. At our cost and loss of capacity we are doing everything we can for their protection and just asking them to work with us and understand that.”

Michael added that this is a new experience for them as well as the public and it will take some getting used to but they would rather cater properly for a smaller crowd than fill the place and put everybody at risk.

Ruairi Sweeney of Franco’s says that the restaurant has had to cut 25-30 per cent of their seating but hopes the same dining experience as before can be had.

“We will have it all socially distanced. We have lost a few tables, there are sanitisation stations throughout the restaurant and we have created some booths.

“The atmosphere will still be there, the music will still be here but there will be a few less people in.”

There were plenty of smiling faces as the Devenish Bar welcomed its first customers back this afternoon for socially distanced pints.

On the other side, Blakes of the Hollow have decided to await for further guidance before reopening, while the Corner Bar without any kitchen facilities or beer garden have no choice but to remain closed.

“Blakes of the Hollow are taking a cautious approach and foremost to us is the health of our customers and staff. And we will be awaiting further direction and advice before we reopen the Victorian bar or the other bars in the complex,” said Pat Blake.

Café Merlot will be reopening next week as they are putting final touches in place to their programme for the summer months.

“We are observing the regulations on a strict basis and look forward to matters becoming more relaxed and a safer environment for our customers and staff. If we have to wait for a prolonged period then so be it but ultimately the health and wellbeing of our staff and customers is paramount.”

Glenda McGovern, from the Corner Bar, said there is very little she can do about reopening.

“It’s basically not worth my while opening. I just have to wait it out. Hopefully they will give a date for the rest of the pubs soon,” she told this newspaper.