‘I’m afraid I can’t take your bags,” says the manager of The Dixon, a boutique hotel just south of Tower Bridge. He greets me in the lobby on reopening day (Saturday 4 July) after the pandemic forced the hotel to close for four months. A smile beams from behind the clear plastic visor that covers his face. “We have a new procedure, you see.”
That procedure goes like this: when guests arrive they are directed to a non-contact temperature scanner and hand-sanitiser station. If a guest’s temperature is below 38C, they can proceed to reception where a masked clerk checks them in from behind a plastic screen. There, guests are offered a face covering and talked through the changes. Namely, that the gym is closed; there is no breakfast buffet (guests need to preorder); that social distancing must be maintained; and that should you need help with your luggage, you are to leave it with staff, who’ll sanitise it using a fogger machine before dropping it to your room.
The Dixon is in a Grade II-listed Edwardian building that was formerly a courthouse and police station. Walking across the original tiled floors – that still bear police insignia – up the grand central staircase, past the Murano glass chandelier and through the contemporary art-lined corridors, it is clear this is an upmarket hotel with a clientele that expects to be well-tended to. Given that the usual flourishes of high-end service often involve getting physically close to a guest, this could pose a problem. But staff at The Dixon are keen to ensure that the pre-Covid-19 experience is maintained, and are using technology and effort to do it.
Menus, for example, are now QR codes to reduce touchpoints. Tables do not have cutlery laid out on them; rather they’re brought out upon an order. At breakfast (currently served in the hotel’s main restaurant, The Provisioners), plates are not brought directly to the table, but to a nearby table an arm’s reach away to help maintain distance. But dinner – which mostly consists of gastropub classics-made-fancy (wagyu beef burger) and which is served in the hotel bar – is hand-delivered to tables. That’s because the seated-only bar has a smaller capacity, making it possible for staff to keep on top of the relevant cleaning needed to deliver a good-old-days service.
Indeed, it is those flourishes – hand-delivered, handmade cocktails, a slice of normality that is only possible through gargantuan effort – that make you feel pampered. The pleasure of restaurant-quality food after months of cooking for myself cannot be overstated, nor the joy of a shower with multiple pulse settings, a king-size bed and a coffee machine all to myself. Enjoying this is only possible because I feel I am being constantly assured of my safety by the meticulous staff (they even leave stickers on common touchpoints in my room, such as the remote control, reading: “your room has been sanitised”).
And it helps that the hotel was nearly empty. The Dixon has 193 rooms but only 25 are taken when I stay. Currently when a guest checks out, their room is cleaned twice – a standard clean and a deeper clean by a team using disinfectant vapour to get into hard to reach areas. Some hotels, in the US for example, are choosing to leave rooms empty for up to 48 hours after checkout so that cleaners are not unwittingly spreading the virus.
That’s easier to do in larger hotels that have the room capacity to do so, but I can’t help but wonder how small independent hotels and B&Bs will cope with the extra work needed to keep rooms open. The Dixon is also a Marriott hotel, so benefits from having access to their large-scale solutions, like accessing temperature-checking devices which are in short supply globally.
That’s not to say The Dixon’s system is flawless. I asked what might happen if a guest arrived with a high temperature and was surprised to hear they’d still be allowed in, albeit asked to self-isolate in their room. Plus, both the restaurant and bar are open to the general public. The hotel also has a small conference room with its own bar, which is proving popular with wedding enquiries (currently wedding parties of up to 30 are allowed). It is still a long way off, but how safe would the hotel feel on a busy weekend, with a wedding party, hotel guests and passing punters to serve?
Before I head home, I pass through nearby Maltby Street Market where street foodies struggle to keep a distance from each other and few are wearing masks. I walk past Tower Bridge to find TikTokers and Instagrammers making content in the bridge’s backdrop, close to kerbside revellers enjoying the newly reopened pubs. I slip past a line for a shop, where queuers looking at their phones forget to distance. None of these scenarios are perfect, and each carries risk. As with everything, it is up to would-be guests to assess how much risk they feel comfortable with when considering booking. But back at the hotel the procedures are in place, ready for those who walk through its newly-reopened doors.
• Accommodation was provided by The Dixon, which has doubles from £149 B&B