Restaurants and bars with outdoor seating say bookings are at unprecedentedly high levels before a possible reopening next Monday, with people eager not to miss their first chance to eat out since lockdown was imposed.
Some venues have invested vast amounts of money to accommodate guests outside before the government’s planned reopening of outdoor hospitality on 12 April if the coronavirus data allows it. Punch Pubs, for example, invested £1m in its beer gardens and outside spaces.
Restaurants, pubs and bars are seeing a surge in interest, with many taking thousands of bookings in 24 hours.
But Emma McClarkin, the chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, said many pubs opening their beer gardens would not make a profit. “Those who open are those who are desperate to reconnect to customers … provide that vital meeting point for people […] in more isolated areas,” she said. “It will be loss-making but businesses are making preparations to get back to what they do best.”
McClarkin said they were still awaiting government safer workplace guidance in order to know exactly what limitations they had to work within. “Our venues spent millions making sure they are Covid secure,” she said. “Safety is our priority for customers and staff.”
“We know the safer workplace guidance before, so want to know what has changed, if anything,” she said, adding that from a booking perspective those who can open – which accounts for about 40% of pubs – have seen lots of interest.
“Some local pubs here made investments in tipi tents and semi-permanent structures to be put up,” she said.
One venue that has seen huge interest so far is 20 Stories in Manchester. Becky Wilkes, a senior sales and marketing manager at D&D London, which runs the bar and restaurant, said they had “been blown away by the demand in bookings since the government announcement”.
“Within the first 48 hours of opening the books for 20 Stories in Manchester, we received an amazing 5,259 covers for the terrace, all for dates between 12 April and 16 May, prior to indoor hospitality opening, and we are now fully booked during that time. We are now averaging roughly 250 dining covers per day and we are keeping half of the terrace open for drinks on a walk-in basis,” she said.
“When speaking to our guests who have booked, the excitement from them has been amazing, people have booked time off work to join us in our opening week and we can’t thank them enough for their support.”
Toni Carbajosa, a co-owner of restaurants including Rioja and the Cranside Kitchen in Glasgow, said the interest had been “unprecedented” and “unbelievable”. Cranside Kitchen was launched in lockdown and received more than 10,000 bookings in 24 hours.
“In terms of social distancing, not much has changed: as far as we have been told at the moment it is still to be at a metre. We have tried to sharpen the place up again in term of compliance; we have sharpened up the test and trace a bit more, and re-invested in more tech with regards to that,” he said.
“We are now more tech-focused in terms of menus, so it is all done from people’s phone. They can order from their phone as opposed to us giving out menus,” he said.
Carbajosa said there was some concern about cancellations. Last year top chefs rallied behind Tom Kerridge after he criticised “selfish” and “disgraceful” customers for failing to show up and honour their reservations. Restaurateurs say that during the pandemic it is more important than ever that people let establishments know if they are not going to turn up.
Carbajosa said: “We are worried about cancellations. Lots of people are trying to book multiple tables and time slots under different names. We have to be vigilant about that due to the Covid situation. In terms of people not turning up, it is what it is, there is nothing we can do about it. We need to hope people understand how tough it is for hospitality and not do that,” he said.