Restaurants, pubs and hotels in Leicester have been told they can reopen from 3 August after lockdown restrictions in the city and suburbs were lifted on Thursday night, giving operators just three days' notice to prepare.
There have been mixed feelings among operators, with some saying the rules are confusing and that more time is required to prepare fully for reopening. From Monday people will be able to visit pubs and restaurants, but they will be unable to meet friends or family from outside their households or bubbles, in line with restrictions brought in for areas in northern England.
Francesco Topan, owner of Italian restaurant Casa Romana in the city centre, told The Caterer he caught the government update on the local news on Thursday night. His restaurant, which has been operating for 38 years, had been planning to open tomorrow.
Topan said: "We had people booked in for Saturday and unfortunately I've had to cancel everyone when I realised we could not open until Monday. People work together but they can't go and have a pint together – it doesn't really make sense. There's no clarity in anything they [the government] say."
He said that the restrictions around guests from the same household dining together would likely eliminate larger bookings and reduce tables to two covers.
"It's going to be a Valentine's night every night. Obviously we can have families but they need to be from the same household.
"This is not really what hospitality is about. Yes, we are happy to reopen but we like groups of people as they make the atmosphere. We like a bit of noise and we like enjoying ourselves."
Nisha Katona (pictured) of Bengali-inspired Mowgli Street Food said she was relieved that Leicester could now reopen. She commented: "We would always need around 10 days to grind back into action to reassemble supply chains and our teams. This pandemic is radioactive in its nature and one never knows where it is going to pop up and where is it is going to decline.
"I have no time or energy for complaint – we close when we have to and open when we can and it will be like that for another year or so I presume. No one's fault – we make chat bombs while the sun shines."
Also in the city centre, Pratik Master, director of Indian fine dining restaurant Lilu on Highcross Street, told The Caterer he was currently looking at the possibility of opening but that at the moment Monday was "not looking promising".
He added: "Basically we've only just been told, so until we hear a bit more, at the moment everything's a little bit up in the air. It's been a bit of a strange time."
Mitchells & Butlers, which operates 1,784 pubs, bars and restaurants across the UK, including O'Neill's, Grange Farm and Blackbird Sizzling Pub in Leicester, said they welcomed the announcement that their remaining Leicester sites could reopen from Monday.
A spokesperson said: "We're sure our guests in Leicester will be excited to return to their favourite pubs, bars and restaurants and our teams are excited to welcome them back, but we urge that they adhere to our new safety measures and that they follow the public health guidance set out by the government when visiting."
The UK's first localised lockdown had a ripple effect on more rural neighbouring operators outside the zone, some of whom decided to put 4 July reopening plans for on hold after the Leicester lockdown was announced.
George Dewsbury, general manager of the Bakers Arms in Blaby told The Caterer that despite being beyond the zone, they had waited until 29 July to reopen.
"We were just outside the zone – literally, if you walked 30 seconds away you'd be in the zone. So, because of that, and all the surrounding areas that use the pub, we thought it wasn't safe or sensible to reopen. You'd be upsetting regular customers who weren't allowed to come.
"We have now revised it and opened solely because we've got our regulars and we trust them. We have a big outside space for 130 and capacity for 40-50 inside the pub."
The news for Leicester came as prime minister Boris Johnson today announced that he has paused the reopening of ‘higher-risk' settings, which had been scheduled for this weekend.
The next review for Leicester is due to take place by 13 August.
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