Hospitality operators have celebrated a successful opening weekend in England and Northern Ireland as officials praised the measures put in place to keep guests and teams safe in the face of Covid-19.
While restrictions limited covers and footfall remained relatively low (at around 50% of 2019 levels, according to data from Springboard), bookings had sold out in minutes for many venues and operators have said guests were eager to celebrate their return.
Mathieu Germond, of Noizé restaurant in London's Fitzrovia, said that average spend was "through the roof", recalling a "cracking two days", that were "emotionally and financially perfect". With one-third capacity Germond said the venue had taken as much on Saturday as it would on a busy December day in the run up to Christmas.
Emma Underwood, general manager of Darby's in south London, said average spend and takings were at pre-lockdown levels with guests looking to treat themselves, particularly when it came to selecting wines.
Rick Stein's 10 restaurants welcomed more than 5,000 guests in their first two days of opening. Chef-director Jack Stein said: "We're really happy with how it went, our customers all respected social distancing and were clearly as happy to be back as we were. Safety was our number one priority and our new measures, from one way systems and table spacing to adding new fully sterilised and sealed cutlery pouches to every table, proved to be a great success."
Tim Foster, founder of Yummy Pub Co, had expected his venues to trade at 40% of last year's levels with measures in place, but achieved 82% across the weekend, which he described as "amazing". However, with venues yet to open in central London, the group as a whole is trading at 50% of its 2019 levels.
London restaurateur Stevie Parle, who operates Pastaio in Soho and Westfield London, and Palatino in Clerkenwell, also saw a slight increase in average spend but stressed that footfall in the West End remains "so, so low", with his Soho restaurant taking about 30% of what would be expected on a Saturday or Sunday.
Despite this he added: "It was good – we learned a lot about what works and all the new procedures."
Data from CGA has suggests around 45% of hospitality venues opened this weekend, with UKHospitality stressing that continued government support would be needed if the industry is to recover.
Chief executive Kate Nicholls added: "If we want to make a real success of this reopening, keep businesses alive and jobs secure, then the government needs to provide support. Support from the government has been extremely helpful in keeping venues afloat and it has saved jobs. There is no possibility of stopping now, though. Anything less than a full show of support from the government risks undoing much of the good work that has already been done and will cause lasting damage to employment and the UK economy."
Police have praised the sector for its management of the opening weekend. Metropolitan Police commander Bas Javid said: "The majority of the public complied with social distancing guidelines and remained vigilant. While some areas were notably busy such as Soho and Portobello Road, we are pleased there were no significant issues or incidents in the capital.
"A small number of premises decided to close early following advice from officers due to crowding and social distancing issues and we thank them for their responsible actions."
Birmingham city centre police tweeted: "A big thank you to all the bars and clubs, partners and especially the customers for making tonight's late shift an absolute pleasure. Long may it last. People enjoying a drink responsibly. No arrests, no assault, no drunken injuries for ambulance to deal with."
Check out this week's edition of The Caterer where operators share their reopening diaries.
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