Large tables cordoned off with yellow and black tape, customers waiting in cars for their seats, one way systems and police officers in attendance during service.
Those were the measures in place when we visited Moseley’s Tipu Sultan – the first venue in Birmingham to face new restrictions for flouting coronavirus rules.
The Indian restaurant, in Alcester Road, fell foul of new beefed-up powers handed to the authority in a bid to control the virus after it was linked to five Covid-19 cases in a single month.
The Direction Order given on Thursday (August 27) told the venue it must restrict entry into the premises, not allow bookings of more than 30 people and ensure large parties are given a separate dining area after “approximately 25 reports” of events being held on the premises.
They were also ordered to stop people queueing outside and allow time for tables to be properly cleaned between bookings after officers found the restaurant’s own safety measures in its risk assessment were not always followed and queuing was not being controlled “in an acceptable manner”.
But what is it like now under the new restrictions and does it feel safe? BirminghamLive paid a surprise visit to the restaurant on Friday – a day after the venue was handed the order.
As we arrived at the entrance, we were stunned by the empty reception area. No queue or customers waiting to be seated, or so it seemed.
My friend informs me that at the start of August, though on an Eat Out to Help Out weekday, she queued for an hour to dine at the popular venue which promises ‘majestic dining’.
The door was held open by a security guard who informed us we would have to sign in as there was a half an hour wait for tables.
We were greeted by two extremely friendly female members of staff offering the warmest welcome I’d had in any restaurant since lockdown – despite the visors shielding their faces.
We were asked to fill in a small slip of paper with our name, phone number, number of guests and address – with a blank space left for the waiter who was to serve us.
Staff then informed us we would need to go back into the car park and wait inside our vehicle for a phone call to let us know our table was ready.
Fortunately, as we informed them it was just the two of us, we were told we could be seated straight away. The usual plush purple seating in the waiting area was cordoned off with hazard tape to warn guests not to sit.
Signage also reminded us to keep 2m apart and adhere to the one way system in place.
We were seated and handed disposable paper menus – a standard measure implemented in all restaurants to minimise the risk of spreading the virus.
Shortly after we were seated, two uniformed police officers entered the building and were escorted around the venue by staff. Though the exact nature of the visit was unclear, it followed just 24 hours on from the Direction Order.
The table within the empty booth next to us was marked with yellow and black tape to warn staff not to seat guests there. A move which left plenty of space between us and the closest guests.
There were tables of around four or six family members seated in this area of the restaurant. The attentive waiters, who regularly came to check on us, all wore face masks.
The food (we ordered Sultani chops and butter chicken) was up to the usual high standards customers have come to expect from the popular venue since it opened in 2013.
Hand sanitisers were dotted around the restaurant including the exit – which was moved to the rear of the restaurant since it reopened post-lockdown.
As we walked through the second half of the restaurant to head home, we could see larger tables of guests dining in the separate area – a measure stipulated in the venue’s new restrictions.
Overall the experience felt pleasant and safe, given the measures in place to stop customers queueing up inside, maintain social distancing between tables and separate larger tables into another area.
Speaking after the Direction Order was imposed, manager Zain Parvez said: “It’s a popular restaurant so people were queueing up outside, but what we’ve actually done now is we take their telephone number, they register inside, they wait in their car and we ring them once their tables are ready.
“We’re abiding by the rules, we’re doing what we can. The council wanted us to make a few changes, we’ve done what we can. Obviously we’re not here to break any rules.
“We’re here to work with the council and the police. We’re here to keep ourselves and our customers safe to be fair with you.”