Hospitality-starved customers flock to pubs and restaurants as they reopen

Tim Martin calls for indoor hospitality to be brought forward

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After months of restrictions, they flocked to pubs and restaurants and enjoyed meals and drinks inside, well away from the unpredictable weather. And there were hugs all round all across the UK as groups of up to six people or two households were finally allowed to visit each other’s homes. That meant loved ones could finally meet up at home again. Hotels and B&Bs were also rolling out their welcome mats and the shows were back on at cinemas, theatres, museums and galleries.

Yesterday’s diners and drinkers were just the first in the queue.

Around 104million people are expected to head out to pubs, restaurants and cafes this week and splurge up to £2.5billion. And workers were looking forward to serving them all.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said: “It’s been tough, exhausting, an emotional rollercoaster and I know that there are more challenges ahead to get fully open and viable. But today was the beginning of the end and bringing back our teams is the first step to recovery.”

Punters had put up with a weekend washout in rainy beer gardens. But the indoor reopening means they will be able to dodge more wet weather forecast this week.

Ian Snowball, owner of the Showtime Bar in Huddersfield, West Yorks, was thrilled to be offering his customers shelter.

He said: “I don’t have to have a hoodie or a coat on any more – it’s great. And hopefully we don’t have to go back outside again.”

Sisters Olivia and Isabelle Cundy and other relatives bid £755 to down the first post-lockdown pint pulled at The Packhorse pub, in Southstoke, Somerset, which had been auctioned off for charity.

VoucherCodes and the Centre for Retail Research expect 13.6million people to spend £297million each day eating inside until Thursday.

That figure is expected to surge over the weekend, when 34 million are set to spend more than £389 million on Saturday and £426 million on Sunday.

VoucherCodes director Angus Drummond said: “It’s been an incredibly tough year for the hospitality industry with large periods of closure.

“So it’s encouraging this report also forecasts a quick and strong recovery over the next couple of years.”

The reopening also means up to 30 people can attend weddings and receptions, while the number of people who can attend a funeral is no longer capped.

Adult sports and exercise classes also restarted indoors yesterday, while steam rooms and saunas reopened.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden was among the first guests at London’s National Gallery as museums and art centres opened their doors again.

Retiree Lois Brooks, 71, who travelled from Ipswich to be there, said: “I have missed doing this and I think it’s going to be really great.”

Other signs of liberation include an end to face masks in secondary school classrooms and university students returning to in-person teaching.

But in the high street people are taking a cautious approach to the lockdown easing. The number of shoppers was down by 3.2 percent on the same day last week.

Data firm Springboard also said footfall was down by 42 percent, compared with the equivalent pre-pandemic Monday in 2019, 31.2 percent lower in malls and 5.1 percent down in retail parks.

Retail expert Melissa Minkow said: “The excitement and morale boost surrounding re-openings certainly helped draw crowds to stores in the first couple of weeks.

“However, the sustainability of these numbers across the sector was always questionable, especially given how accustomed consumers have become to online shopping.”

A decision is yet to be taken as to whether the last step out of lockdown can go ahead as planned on June 21.

After yesterday’s easing, coronavirus data will be closely monitored for the next four weeks.

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