Pub and restaurant businesses divided over reopening bookings

01 March 2021 by
Pub and restaurant businesses divided over reopening bookings

The question of whether to reopen for bookings in England is proving divisive among restaurant and pub businesses, with some fearful of a government U-turn while others are dealing with a flood of reservations.

Prime minister Boris Johnson has announced a provisional opening date of 12 April for outdoor hospitality, while indoor dining and hotels may be able to open from 17 May.

Becky Wilkes, senior sales and marketing manager of the north for D&D London, told The Caterer the team was "blown away" by the demand since reopening bookings last week.

She said: "At one point I honestly felt like I was in charge of putting Glastonbury tickets on sale, the pressure was huge with the amount of requests coming in."

Within 48 hours, 20 Stories in Manchester (pictured) saw 5,259 covers reserved for its terrace from 12 April-16 May. It is now fully booked every weekend with an average of 150 dining covers a day, and half the terrace will open for drinks on a walk-in basis.

D&D is also taking reservations for indoor dining, and Wilkes said some customers had booked multiple days to dine from different menus.

"We have been eagerly awaiting some form of green light from the government for a while and we've always planned that we will open as many sites as we possibly can, the earliest we are allowed to," she said.

Weather concerns

The risk of rain means many operators are cautious about opening outside areas in April without cover.

The Purefoy Arms in Hampshire is taking bookings for its outdoor pod and encouraging guests to bring a blanket and have a ‘picnic-style' experience in its garden.

Sam Harrison of Sam's Riverside in London said the restaurant has already been flooded with emails and phone calls, adding: "We're just trying to work out the financial viability of only being able to trade 32 covers outside rather than 100 inside, it's so weather dependent."

Emily Lewis, director of the Lewis Partnership, which runs a hotel, inn with rooms and two pubs in Staffordshire, said more reservations were coming in for indoor tables in May.

"April is quieter than I would have expected, but I put this down to people being uncertain about the weather. I personally think April will be more walk-in led," she said.

Further barriers to opening

Other hospitality owners are not reopening reservations at all, fearing government advice may change.

Whites restaurant in Beverley, Yorkshire, said it would be "too heartbreaking" to cancel guests again, tweeting: "The dates are only provisional and with over 80 days to go until ‘opening day' it seems too early to call it. I can see why people are opening their diaries but we are holding off just for now."

Chef Marc Wilkinson, of Fraiche restaurant in Oxton, Merseyside, is also delaying taking reservations. "I will feel more confident on 12 April, should that all go to plan, then I will release ours for June onwards," he said.

Imogen Davis, co-founder of Native restaurant on Osea Island in Essex, said the team wanted to avoid the stop and start routine forced on hospitality over the past year.

"[It's] frustrating as we've had lots of guests try and book for May as the messaging from the government is perceived as all restaurants are reopening," she said.

Jay Patel, co-founder of Legare, an Italian restaurant in London Bridge, said he was waiting until the end of May or early June to consider reopening. Legare, which won its first Michelin Bib Gourmand in January, only has two outdoor tables and no overhead canopy.

"Our capacity is so limited that until we feel it's safe to open at 50% the business model doesn't really work," said Patel.

He added that the potential for rises in ingredient prices post-Brexit is another barrier to restaurants reopening.

"People are going to need to review and revise their menus and a lot of that information hasn't come back to us yet," said Patel.

"A few of our suppliers have updated their costs by 10%, but we are still waiting on some and we can't open the restaurant without knowing."

Patel said some restaurants have done so well selling takeaway boxes and meal kits during lockdown that it may not be worth them returning to full service.

"They're working with fewer staff doing upwards of 200-300 boxes a week and making decent enough money to keep the business going in a way that's more efficient, so it begs the question of whether or not they would reopen."

For larger hospitality group D&D, which runs 39 UK sites with many outdoor spaces and terraces, there is no hesitancy about reopening, and it is already taking reservations beyond May.

Wilkes said: "We just want to return to normal as soon as we can and as safely as we can and can't wait to greet our guests back through the doors.

She added: "People are ready to celebrate and 2021 will be a great year for special occasions. We had to cancel so many special bookings in 2020, from weddings to birthdays, so this is our year to pick up where we left off."

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