It was a pleasure to interview Emma Underwood, the general manager of Darby’s restaurant next door to the new American Embassy in Nine Elms.

Can you elaborate on how Darby’s was doing before March and your activities during lockdown?

Before lockdown, we were open 7 days a week. We were running a lot of services and we had a big team.

We saw a drop in business around February, because a lot of our breakfast trade was coming from the American embassy, from people getting visas. Restaurants in central London, however, saw their businesses decline at the start of the year so we were very lucky compared to them. But for us, everything stayed pretty much the same apart from breakfast until the week beginning March 11, when the lockdown was announced.

We closed the business on March 15 and waited to hear news from the government. The furlough scheme was announced and straight away, we decided to open a shop. The shop stayed open for about three months, and at times the situation got a little uncertain. We weren’t sure about the safety of the team, so we closed the shop for a week but we reopened again.

How has the 10pm curfew impacted your business?

It’s affected us in a few different ways. In terms of the business, everything has actually managed to stay the same, but we’ve had to make some changes.

Previously, we did a hundred covers on Friday and Saturday nights, with guests coming in as late as 10pm and leaving at around 11.30pm.

Now, we’ve had to adapt our service to make sure our guests can leave at 10pm. Ensuring this is not as simple as taking the last table at 9pm, because we have to compress all of our bookings into 2 hours instead of 4 hours. We now take bookings every 15 minutes rather than every half hour. This means that service is very compressed, it’s very intense. The team is working great, though. Everything’s just getting on much faster.

Today, the government announced that London is now in Tier 2. How do you think this announcement will affect your business?

It was announced at 10am that London was put in Tier 2, and we had phone calls about it straight away. I can tell you that our main obstacle is not what the guidelines are, because we are very confident that this is a well-ventilated, clean space. We’ve had no issues at all, none of the team have gotten sick and we haven’t had any guests getting ill. We all feel very safe here. The main issue is the guests’ confidence. If the guests feel that it is not safe to go out, that London is now at a higher risk, this is our main barrier.

The main message we’re putting out now is that Darby’s is very clean, spacious and well-ventilated. This is something that very few restaurants in London can offer to people so we don’t have any worries.