Diners and drinkers starved of the pleasure of going out with friends and family for four months have booked virtually every outdoor table in the capital on Friday, Saturday and on Sunday.
The Centre for Retail Research said it expected retail and hospitality spending across London to reach close to £170 million on Saturday and around £130 million on Sunday with much of that spent in the previously deserted West End.
Restaurant bookings have been far higher than those on the so-called “Super Saturday” last July when the ban on eating out after the first lockdown was lifted.
Booking website The Fork said reservations in London this weekend were 220 per cent higher than for the first weekend after lockdown last summer. Nationally the uplift is only 105 per cent.
Restaurateur Soren Jessen, who owns Ekte Nordic Kitchen in the City’s Bloomberg Arcade, said: “We are completely booked Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
“I can’t even squeeze in walk-ins.
“It’s at the weekend so it’s obviously not City workers. It’s the same story for next weekend as well.
“Our first lunch booking is at 11.30am and we have dinner bookings from 4.30pm onwards.
“People are spending a lot of money. If we run out of a £60 bottle of wine they are not saying ‘I’ll have the cheaper one’, they’re saying ‘what’s the next one up?’ and are happy to pay £80.”
Chief executive of D&D London dining group Des Gunewardena said: “It’s been way better than we expected.
“Bookings for the weekend are very, very strong. It’s quite something.
“We’re packed everywhere, there is not a seat to be had over the whole weekend. Super Saturday was nothing like this. People were still worried about Covid then, but now they have had enough misery.
“Average spend has been up 25 per cent on pre-Covid in some restaurants. People are running down their savings and the forward bookings are coming in waves up to the end of May.
“Psychologically this first week has been very important.
“It has set the tone. It’s only been four days, but it’s a great platform and a small step towards a bumper summer.”
Rebecca Mascarenhas, owner of Home SW15 in Putney, which has an outdoor terrace for 25, said: “We’re fully-booked the whole weekend from Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The response has really been phenomenal. Customers are thrilled to be out. It’s great.
“Average spend is probably up 15 per cent, there has been upscaling and more people are having cocktails. The last few days have felt like a celebration, a special occasion, it’s been like a birthday treat.”
Al fresco dining terraces and gardens will be bathed in spring sunshine all weekend with temperatures forecast to rise to 15C on Sunday afternoon.
That will make it feel far warmer than most of this week, which began with snow flurries on Monday morning.
West End retail bosses are also looking forward to a strong weekend after “non-essential” stores reopened on Monday but urged the Government to lift Sunday trading restrictions so that shoppers can continue spending after 6pm.
Jace Tyrrell, chief executive of the business group the New West End Company, said: “We’re looking forward to a busy first weekend of trade with visitors primed to shop safely and reconnect with family and friends over a drink in the sunshine.
“Since Monday we’ve seen strong trade across the district.
“Footfall has steadily risen throughout the day as the public enjoys a full day of shopping, topped off with food and drinks in the evenings.
“We hope that footfall continues to increase in a safe and sustainable way but, until international shoppers return to the West End, businesses will continue to need extra government support.
“We desperately need an extension of Sunday trading hours in Britain’s two international centres — London’s West End and Knightsbridge.
“Forcing shops to close at 6pm when the streets are busy and customer demand is high is damaging retailers and leisure operators’ abilities to capitalise on strong trading conditions.”
Visitors were urged to behave responsibly and continue to observe rules on social distancing, mask wearing and household mixing.
A Westminster council spokesman said: “With warmer weather, we expect to see a lively West End over the weekend and our city marshals and officers will be out working with police and businesses to keep visitors and streets safe. It’s great to see the city’s nightlife returning and we want that to continue.”