As England continues with its anti-Covid vaccination programme the country is gradually relaxing some of its restrictions. As part of the government’s roadmap for reopening the country the opening of hospitality venues was high on the agenda. Since April 12th pubs and restaurants across England have been permitted to open their outdoor areas for the first time in nearly four months.
As of Monday April 26th pubs and restaurants in Wales are allowed to open outdoors and in Scotland hospitality venues can have customers indoors until 8pm but can only serve alcohol outdoors! Also in Scotland gyms, swimming pools and shops have reopened as from Monday April 26th. In Northern Ireland pubs, restaurants and cafés will be open outdoors from April 30th.
Although the pubs are open the rules are still pretty severe in terms of distancing and numbers. The general rule is that only six people can meet up (outside) from upto six different households and must provide contact details to the establishment, or register with the NHS contact tracing app. The next phase of the reopening plan is due to come into effect from May 17th, whereby hospitality venues can open indoors to customers, again with limited numbers, and then from June 21st all restrictions could be lifted and nightclubs could reopen.
For those venues that have opened, and not all are able to because of a lack of outdoor space, the early signs are good and sales are booming in comparison to the same period in 2019, which was the last time for a comparable period of trading. Many pubs have been imaginative with how they have set up their outdoor space, with gazebos, marquees and individual shelters, which are allowed to have a roof but must be opensided, and have provided entertainment in an attempt to lure back customers.
A new trend of booking a table in the pub garden has started, something that would not have been heard of previously, so that customers can be guaranteed of getting a pint. Unfortunately, all is not so rosy and there are many reports of establishments increasing their prices and offering a substandard service which in the short term they may get away with but certainly not as time goes on.
The pub trade is currently happy just to be serving again but there are only about 40% of venues open, and those that are open are operating at around 20% -30% of their capacity. In the UK only about 12% of restaurants have any outdoor space or are so limited in space that it is not worth them opening at present. For some they can apply for temporary pavement licences to move their tables out onto public walkways.
Others have taken the decision to remain closed based on the financial viability of only limited opening and the need for extra staff. With all service of food and drink at table (and outside) staffing levels need to be increased in comparison to more “normal” times – some smaller establishments cannot make it pay and will wait until they can have customers inside.
From May 17th the rules will change assuming that all goes well in the intervening period and that Covid rates remain low. Pubs, cafés and restaurants will be able to serve customers indoors but with distancing measures and limited numbers. Service will still be limited to table only and masks will have to worn when moving around, for example being shown to a table or visiting the bathroom. Hotels, hostels and B&B’s will be allowed to reopen along with cinemas and childrens’ play areas.
By June 21st it is envisaged that all Covid restrictions will be lifted and hospitality will finally breathe again. It looks as if the public are eager to get back to their favourite pub or restaurant and the industry will be well supported once again but spare a thought for the large number of hospitality venues that will not have survived the pandemic.