Restaurant and pub operators who have invested in enclosed outdoor ‘igloos' and tents have been left frustrated that tier restrictions are impacting their use.
While many businesses have seen a rise in bookings after adapting outside space to include heaters and blankets, others say rules have made usually profitable pod seating unusable.
UKHospitality guidance says structures with four closed walls are classed as indoor spaces so can only seat single households or ‘bubbles' of up to six under Tier 2. To count as outside more than 50% of the structure has to be open to the elements.
Caron Williams, owner of the Star Inn in Sparsholt, Oxfordshire, said she had invested in a large Bedouin tent at the start of October, but decided not to put it back up when the region entered Tier 2 restrictions in December.
"It would have been classed as an indoor space as most enclosed tents are so we decided that having to field constant enquiries about it hosting multiple households would be too disruptive," she said.
In Birmingham the Craft restaurant has nine outdoor pods and two smaller capsules, which have retractable sides to allow them to function as an outside space.
Owner Sam Morgan bought the pods before the pandemic and said they were so successful they paid for themselves within six weeks.
"During lockdown we became one of the busiest venues in Birmingham with a six- to seven-week lead time to get a chair, four to five months to book a pod in advance," he said.
He invested in further pods in early November and was fully booked for 2020, until the England's lockdown in November "slammed the breaks on".
"We were sat staring at a booking system with 3-4,000 people booked in until the end of the year. We had people booking for December 2021 for Christmas, it was mental."
Morgan said it was expected Birmingham would come out of lockdown into Tier 2, and was receiving 400 enquiries a day to book in December.
But the city was placed in Tier 3, meaning all hospitality venues had to close, forcing the restaurant to cancel hundreds of reservations.
He is now having to defer bookings for the pods until next year, when it is hoped restrictions are relaxed.
He said: "It's pure frustration dealing with all these cancellations. We've now got people booking for January 2021 repeating the same process."
London Skylight, a bar and rooftop site at Tobacco Dock, increased the number of igloos it offered this year from four to 23 when the rule of six was announced.
Scott McVittie, events director at Skylight's parent company Meanwhile Events, said that while Tier 2 restrictions on household mixing had made trading more challenging the igloos, which can be booked with extras including a £50 Champagne add-on and £141 business lunch offer, were still almost booked up for New Year.
But the business will now have to close when London enters Tier 3 on Wednesday.
"We're a destination venue, so moving to takeaway-only means we have to effectively shut down," said McVittie.
Guests will be offered a refund or booking for an alternative date, and the outdoor pods will remain on the rooftop into the next spring.
"Our plan is for the igloos to remain until March when we'll start to transition to summer," he said.
Image credit: Haydon Perrior
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