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London hospitality leaders hail ‘huge’ al-fresco demand - but caution real financial recovery is dependent on June 21 ‘Freedom Day’

Naomi Ackerman
·4-min read
<p>Pubs are set to reopen outdoors from Monday</p> (PA)

Pubs are set to reopen outdoors from Monday

(PA)

London's restaurants, pubs and booking platforms are reporting soaring booking numbers as al-fresco dining gets set to return on Monday. But industry leaders warned today that there can be no more false starts, and that significant financial recovery for the sector depends on full reopening going ahead on June 21.

The biggest date yet in the roadmap out of lockdown will allow “non-essential” stores to return to trading from April 12, while hospitality businesses will be able to serve customers outdoors. Firms have pointed to an anticipated boom in consumer spending as lockdown savings are enjoyed.

Patrick Hooykaas, managing director of restaurant booking platform The Fork, told the Standard that since Boris Johnson confirmed the reopening date, the platform saw a 57% increase in bookings week-on-week - with London alone accounting for 44% of those bookings.

By the end of March, Fuller's boss Simon Emeny said the group had seen “massive evidence of pent-up demand” for pubs returning, with over 60,000 bookings for its outdoor-only spaces already snapped up for the week beginning April 12.

In another sign of the positivity reopening is sending throughout the sector, Stella Artois, which is giving out up to £500,000 in tips to hospitality staff in UK pubs from Monday, said it has seen "more than 400 pubs sign up to the campaign, and more are signing up each day" since its launch earlier this week.

However, a number of industry leaders cautioned that firms’ real financial recovery will not begin until hospitality can start selling indoors next month, and rules ease further from late June. June 21 is the date the Government has currently outlined it its roadmap as the day all remaining Covid restrictions will be lifted.

Pub giant Greene King runs more than 3,100 pubs, restaurants and hotels around the UK. It slashed jobs and had to close 79 sites as a result of the pandemic hit, and two thirds of its managed estate will remain closed from Monday.

Chief executive Nick Mackenzie said that the group also has thousands of bookings lined up for its reopening sites, but warned: "Whilst we’re happy that some of our pubs can spring back into action soon, most of the sites we open on Monday will remain loss making and over two thirds of our managed estate remains closed.

"What’s more, with a myriad of restrictions set to remain in place for the coming two months, pubs across the country will continue to struggle. It’s therefore vital that the government sticks to its timetable with a full, unrestricted reopening from 21 June.”

Patrick Dardis, chief executive of London pub group Young’s, said that he is seeing "huge appetite to get together in our pubs", but cautioned that the outdoor-only return means revenues are "reliant on the British weather".

Young’s has reported steep losses and called 2020 “the most horrible year” in the group’s 189-year history.

Dardis urged the Prime Minister to "not go back on his words" on the June 21 plan.

"We want the PM to honour his commitment he made to the Nation. That is, the 21st June is freedom day. The day we get our lives back,” he said.

Paula Lindenberg, UK President of the Budweiser Brewing Group, said that going forward into reopening the company "would like the government to keep an open dialogue with the industry”.

It came as trade body the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) revealed that pub operators have invested a total of more than £285 million in supporting leased and tenanted publicans.

The body said it found the investment "came in the form of rent and other costs waived or reduced during the COVID-19 pandemic, and is in on top of significant financial support to help ensure pubs are Covid-secure and can start to re-open outdoors on Monday".

Operators helped pay for al-fresco dining set-ups for pub gardens, such as marquees, tepees, outdoor heaters and outdoor beer pumps and fridges.

BBPA chief executive, Emma McClarkin, said the investment "shows we are ready to get back open for business", and called on the government to give support the body believes will be "crucial" to the sector’s long-term recovery - including "long term cuts to beer duty, VAT and business rates".

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