Nearly 40% of consumers are planning to dine out from 12 April and have already started to make reservations, according to research by CGA.
By the end of April, as more people have been vaccinated, that figure will climb to 76% and rise to 81% by June, said Karl Chessell, director at CGA, speaking at The Caterer's Recovery Summit on 30 March, which was sponsored by Open Table, Sandton Capital Partners and Wi5.
"People want to return to the sector and we will see that pent-up demand manifesting itself," he said. That will lead to a significant bounce-back for the sector in the second half of the year.
High-quality, healthy and locally-produced options will be a priority for consumers, rather than cost, he added.
"That is what consumers have missed, you can't ignore the fact there are economic pressures for parts of the population… but I think really people have missed the experience, the quality, the service and that's what consumers are focused on rather than price. Which is a good place for the sector to be."
According to CGA, 58% of business leaders plan to open sites in next 12 months. Respondents were mainly larger operators, with those planning to open an average of four new sites. "We will see new investment in the sector and people looking to expand their estates," he said.
Overall, there was a net decline of 7,592 of licensed premises in 2020.
"We are going to see more closures, but we are hopefully going to see new openings and new entrants into the market," he added.
The main areas of growth will be restaurant openings and pubs – particularly those which are food-led. "That balance over time has been more towards food and less towards wet-led pubs. And certainly the operators that are doing well will do both well in combination."