Surviving Lockdown: An Interview with Harsh Joshi of Benares Restaurant & Bar
Benares Restaurant & Bar in Berkeley Square has long been considered one of London’s finest restaurants. The Indian fine dining establishment is well known for its lamb chops and duck curry. When I caught up with General Manager Harsh Joshi, I had a number of questions to ask him about their experience of going into lockdown and the measures they have been putting in place for a safe return to work.
I began by asking Harsh about his involvement with Benares. He told me he first joined the restaurant when it opened around 2003. He recalled setting up the table numbers - still in use today. After working with several other hotels and restaurants, including The Ritz and The Intercontinental and setting up his own restaurant, he had jumped at the chance of returning to Benares when the owner invited him back. Harsh says he felt like he was coming home. He left his previous role at the end of January this year and started work with the company on 25th February.
Going into lockdown soon afterwards was pretty scary - several other restaurants in the area were closing down. Benares went from serving 60-100 covers a day to under 15. At the time, a furlough scheme had yet to be announced by the government and it was a question of waiting for the daily press conferences to see what was happening. The management considered their team important and big decisions had to be made in a short space of time.
A positive mindset
Harsh’s experience with takeaway operations at other restaurants suddenly became very relevant and a decision was made to set up Benares at Home. As one of the first restaurants to establish a takeaway service during the lockdown, there were various challenges to be overcome. The new service offering high-quality food delivered to customers’ homes was set up within a week. But it wouldn’t have been possible without the staff rallying round and a positive mindset reminding everyone that they would get through this crisis.
Maintaining the highest standards
Since the lockdown began, Harsh says, Benares have analysed every aspect of the business to ensure all possible precautions are being taken to maintain the highest standards of safety and hygiene. Measures include the installation of screens 180 cm tall and 100 cm wide so that customers are separated. Staff temperatures are checked daily and masks and gloves are worn. It has even been possible to arrange rotas so that using public transport during rush hour is avoided. Benares have purchased a Sanipro hygenie station from Sanistation UK, containing santiser, gloves and masks. The station is available for customers to help themselves. Harsh says that as soon as he saw this product, he knew it was right for them: it looks very smart and, as a niche product, fits well in the Benares environment. It’s a definite plus that the hygiene station could be branded in Benares’ colours. ‘The most important thing,’ says Harsh, ‘is that we’re doing everything possible to keep our customers, staff and suppliers safe’.
Harsh singles out three things that make working at Benares a pleasure: meeting new people; the fresh challenges that each day brings; and the buzz in the dining room when it’s busy. He is looking forward to reopening soon and getting back to serving customers.
The supplier of the SaniPro Station is Woodnet Lifestyles. Mojca Sanjenbam, co-director, commented: ‘We are delighted to be working with Benares as one of the top restaurants in the UK. Their attention to detail in ensuring there is a safe environment sets an example to us all. We hope their customers and staff feel safe using the hygiene station and that business gets back to normal soon’.