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Operators put kitchens into overdrive as diners seek final restaurant fix before Thursday

Sticks’n’Sushi kitchen

Restaurant owners have reported a flurry of bookings for the next two days as people bid to dine out before a one-month national lockdown begins on Thursday.

Some operators have reopened kitchens on days they would usually be closed in order to accommodate customers while they can following Boris Johnson’s announcement on Saturday evening that restaurants and pubs in England must close for four weeks.

Restaurants said they were being inundated with booking requests from families looking to eat out and people taking in business lunches.

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Jack Stein, chef director at Rick Stein Group, which owns 10 sites in the south, said it was expecting to be busy right up until lockdown begins.

“We saw a surge in bookings across the board on Sunday with bookings up 25% from the Sunday before. People are definitely looking to make the most of the few days we have left which is brilliant. Our flagship site, The Seafood Restaurant, is looking particularly busy with only a few late afternoon tables left. We still have some availability in our other sites but it’s filling up fast.”

The prime minister said during his announcement that takeaway and delivery services can continue to operate throughout the lockdown, but many restaurant businesses aren’t geared up for that style of operation.

Gregory Marchand, chef patron of Frenchie Covent Garden, said his site was anticipating a busy 48 hours following an “astounding” increase in bookings ahead of Thursday.

“People are clearly keen to dine out – there’s a feeling of urgency. The bookings speak for themselves: Monday last week 38 covers, [yesterday] 75. Tuesday last week 32, covers [today] 88. Wednesday last week 31 covers, this week 94.”

Charles Harris, founder of Libertine Burger in Warwickshire, said yesterday that it had been overwhelmed with enquiries since the weekend.

“We don’t take bookings – only walk-ins – but we’ve had over 100 emails and Instagram messages enquiring about bookings since the announcement. No doubt we’ll be full until Wednesday night if today’s services are anything to go by.”

Up in Cumbria, Alasdair Elwick, general manager of The Forest Side, said his venue had upped its normal hours of service in order to make the most of the next couple of days.

“Our restaurant and hotel rooms were fully booked anyway, but to maximise revenue we decided to open on Wednesday lunchtime when we’re usually closed. Every table was snapped up in under three hours,” he revealed.

In London, Nutshell Covent Garden has taken the same approach. It’s opened its kitchen specially to deal with demand from customers wanting one final meal out before the lockdown begins.

Chef patron Marwa Alkhalaf said: “We’re not usually open Monday to Wednesday, but following the announcement over the weekend, we announced on our socials and newsletter that we would be opening especially.

“We saw around 65 bookings (150 covers) come in for the next few days and are fully booked on Wednesday. It’s great to know that we can serve our loyal customers for a few extra days before we go into the second lockdown.”

REACTION: London restaurant owners rage at “disastrous” measures

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Andrew Seymour

The author Andrew Seymour

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