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Pubs and restaurants call for clarity around outdoor reopening plans

23 February 2021 by
Pubs and restaurants call for clarity around outdoor reopening plans

Pubs and restaurant owners have called for more clarity from the government over what opening for outdoor-only service in April could mean for the industry.

Boris Johnson has said that alfresco dining could be allowed as early as 12 April as part of a phased lifting of lockdown in England.

But it has met with a mixed response from operators, who are concerned that a partial opening could impact their eligibility for vital financial support such as grants while trade is still limited.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is not expected to confirm whether measures such as the furlough scheme and VAT cut will be extended until the Budget on 3 March.

Roxane Marjoram, who runs five Suffolk pubs as part of the Gusto Pronto group, told The Caterer: "We need to know the specifics from the government. There will be very few pubs that can open outdoors-only as they may not have the space.

"We may be able to open one wet-led pub but couldn't trade normal hours and it would depend on the weather."

UKHospitality estimates only 40% of hospitality businesses have an outdoor area, which in some cases is "little more than a table and a couple of chairs".

Marjoram added it was "hugely frustrating" that businesses still had to wait until next week to find out if support such as the VAT cut would continue.

"We were closed for a huge part of the previous tax year, so it's not as if we had the benefit of that relief while trading. By May we will have been shut for around 20 weeks. The VAT cut should be extended another year as it will take the sector a while to recover."

Nick Mackenzie, chief executive of Greene King, said he was "disappointed" pubs would not be able to fully open alongside non-essential retail, gyms and hairdressers in April.

"Opening pub gardens in April simply isn't viable. So many pubs will have to remain closed and, with a phased reopening from May, next week's Budget needs to bring positive news as we continue to burn tens of millions of pounds in cash every month," he said.

But Daniel Farrow, founder of the Gatherers restaurant in Norwich, welcomed the news and said he had been upgrading his outside space during lockdown.

"The news of beer gardens reopening is a great victory for those with the space to trade outside and is going to be absolutely amazing for us here at the Gatherers," he said.

"We plan on serving burgers, hot dogs and potentially pizzas from a barbecue set up in the garden."

Businesses will be unable to open for indoor dining until at least 17 May, but the aim is for all lockdown restrictions to be lifted by 21 June at the earliest.

Marjoram added: "The stop-start approach of the previous lockdowns has been hugely damaging and the one thing we don't want is to reopen and then go back into lockdown again. It was reassuring to hear Boris referring to a cautious but irreversible approach going forward."

A HM Treasury spokesperson said: ‘'We've invested more than £280bn throughout the pandemic to protect millions of jobs and businesses - and extended our self-employed and furlough schemes through to April so that people have certainty that help is in place.

‘'At the upcoming Budget we'll outline the next stages of our Plan for Jobs to support businesses and families across the UK. That has been our priority throughout the past year and it will be the priority for the year to come."

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