Hospitality businesses in the UK were finally allowed to welcome customers inside their premises again this morning as Covid restrictions were eased.
Although pubs and restaurants have been able to trade outdoors for the last five weeks, today was always heralded as the more significant date for the industry due to the number of businesses that can now reopen viably.
Many operators are firing up their kitchens for the first time since the end of last year, when the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic led to the government ordering pubs and restaurants to shut their doors for the second time in the space of a year.
Queues were reported outside some pubs and bars at midnight as customers looked to take advantage of the new rules.
Some 45,000 pubs were estimated to reopen today, serving approximately three million pints.
And restaurant chains such as Loungers were among those which had venues opening at 8am for breakfast service.
Chairman Alex Reilley tweeted: “It’s been a long, frustrating, & emotional road & I know there’s still a lot of anxiety out there about rent, debt, and finding staff but today truly is the beginning of the end & you’ve made it this far – keep going!”
There were fears on Friday that the planned reopening of the industry could be jeopardised after Number 10 called a press conference.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the roadmap for easing restrictions would continue as planned, but sounded a note of caution due to rising cases of the Indian variant.
He also suggested that Step 4 of the roadmap, which would see the removal of all restrictions from 21 June, could be delayed if the government’s criteria for scrapping current social distancing measures is not met.
That has direct implications for the hospitality industry, which still has to abide by rules such as one metre social distancing, table service only and masks until then.
UKHospitality CEO, Kate Nicholls, said the prime minister’s remarks about the roadmap slipping had “introduced an element of doubt” about what would happen on 21 June.
“The situation will clearly be closely monitored but should the roadmap timings slip, it is vital financial supports are forthcoming, and that business rates are postponed until October,” she said.
“Businesses need a swift, publicly stated commitment that such supports would be in place in the event of a delay to Step 4, to give venues some reassurance as they look toward the challenges of viable trading.”
The British Beer & Pub Association also said that restrictions must be completely removed on 21 June for all pubs to reopen and stand a chance of survival.
It said pubs that are reliant or standing and vertical drinking due to their small footprints will be particularly adversely affected by table service only due to their limited space.
For this reason, it estimates that some 2,000 pubs, 5% of all the pubs in the UK, have remained closed today despite being allowed to serve customers indoors.
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the BBPA, said: “After some questionable weather during the last week or so, we know Brits are looking forward to being back inside the pub once more. Our pubs have been preparing for this Monday over the last couple of months.
“We expect 45,000 pubs to open across the UK and 3 million pints to be served on Monday alone. However, that is 1.6 million pints less than what they would have sold on a typical Monday before the pandemic. This is because 2,000 pubs will still remain closed and pubs that do open are limited in their sales by table service and no standing drinking.”
“This is by no means the end of the crisis for our sector. We need pubs fully reopened without any restrictions at all on 21 June if they are to survive and trade viably.”