BACK IN BUSINESS Pat Jennings, Director of the TF Royal Hotel and Theatre and Carmel Kelly, Director of Operations, pictured back at work this week. Pic: Michael McLaughlin
IT was Thursday afternoon in the TF Royal Hotel and Theatre, Castlebar and had you your head buried in the sand for the past 12 weeks, things didn’t look too out of the ordinary.
Your meat and two veg’ was steaming away in the carvery, gentle chatter from the bums on the seats filled the air and the familiar sound of glasses clattering could be heard from the bar.
My phone buzzed with a friend on the other line and instantly I was asked in an almost shocked tone: “Are you in the pub?”
Life in the new normal didn’t appear too out of the ordinary. Of course there was no customers mingling or no one leaning on the bar talking to the bar man. The large room is ideal for this new way of living. The only giveaway is the one-way system, the bottles of sanitisers on every surface and signage and many stickers on the floor, which we’re later informed cost €10 a pop.
But that’s on the surface. Behind the scenes it’s a whole new world of regulations and guidelines, one which well-known Castlebar businessman and long-term TF director Pat Jennings admitted he has never experienced before.
“I’ve never seen anything like it and probably never will again, it’s just totally unprecedented,” he told The Mayo News. “It has changed the way we live, changed the way we operate. We can’t even give out trays of sandwiches to customers anymore.
“Or when you’re giving out the bedroom key, we have to do it in a sealed plastic bag. And we have to make sure that once the housekeeper seals the room, nobody can enter until the next resident comes along.
“These are all protocols we have to adhere to, all costs, but there’s no point crying over spilled milk now, you have to get up and do it and keep on moving.”
Moving around at pace that day staff were cleaning, delivering drinks and checking if the customers were comfortable. “You must be a great dancer,” one elderly woman, enjoying her food, smiled at one of the waiters who was buzzing around the floor. “I wish,” the young lad replied.
The 50 plus staff on the books had all returned and like all businesses the shifts and staff numbers on at any one time were strictly monitored. As a steady flow of customers streamed through the doors, they got busier.
Carmel Kelly, Director of Operations, tells The Mayo News that the staff were eager to get back working after three months off. Some even came back early without being paid, such was the willingness to get out of the house.
There were characters all shapes and sizes coming through the doors. Quite a few elderly and some children with their parents. There was a local barber in for a pint after a shift and a trombone player from the Castlebar Brass Band.
“Some people are excited to get back into a restaurant because they had their own sacrifices to make too,” Pat Jennings said. “But it’s early days yet.
“We’ve put a lot of preparation into this and that’s the bottom line nowadays. You have to work within the guidelines and the protocols and we’re lucky that we have all this space.
“The guidelines are onerous and there has been a lot of expense in terms of training staff, PPE equipment, Covid-19 regulations, but unfortunately we can’t do anything about that.
“It’s a massive deficit starting off and it’s no wonder that some places can’t re-open and won’t re-open.
“But with the space we have, we see opportunities and you have to make hay when the sun shines. We’re looking forward all the time, because if you don’t you will drive yourself into the ground.”
On the ground floor of the hotel, the famous theatre is undergoing a facelift as we speak and plans are in place to utilise the spacious surrounds as much as they can.
One of Castlebar’s oldest premises, is as well equipped as any for the new way of living.