Soho restaurants call for alfresco revolution to stay as customers return to enjoy 'Riviera' atmosphere
Soho restaurant owners have called for the area's alfresco revolution to be made permanent after experiencing a successful reopening not seen in other parts of the capital.
Changes to allow restaurants to operate with increased outdoor seating saw Westminster Council close streets including Bateman, Frith and Old Compton to vehicles between 5pm and 11pm from Monday to Friday and from midday on Saturdays and Sundays.
John Devitt, co-founder of Koya, which has a restaurant in Frith Street, described the outcome as "magical".
He told The Caterer: "We only opened last Wednesday and we're not quite back to trading at full volume, but I can see us getting pretty close and reaching 75%-80% this week compared to what we used to be at, which is miraculous quite frankly. I walked by our restaurant at 12.20pm on Monday and all six tables outside were full."
He continued: "Swathes of London are deserted but in Soho it's wonderful to see people and everyone is behaving themselves, sitting far apart, it's all outside and it's really well appreciated. It's the Riviera in Soho and it's lovely to see."
Devitt said around 100 operators in the area had joined together and were looking to formalise a company to work with the police, council and other authorities towards seeing the measures return in future years.
Ivan Carnero, general manager of Shack-Fuyu in Old Compton Street, would also like to see the measures extended. Outdoor seating has given the restaurant back the covers it had lost due to social distancing measures and trade is currently at around 50% of that seen last year.
Carnero explained: "The outdoor seating has been fantastic. It's like a British version of Las Ramblas and we've got a lot of customers that we wouldn't have had otherwise because of it.
"The street feels great – there's a lot of people around having drinks, it feels very natural. Even inside the restaurant it is less busy but very normal.
"All the restaurants are talking about keeping this. I understand they need to open the roads in the morning for deliveries, but it would be great to have it pedestrianised for the whole year.
"At the moment, with the temporary licences, we can put tables out but not heaters or covers for rain and changing weather conditions, the great thing would be to have this for the whole year and be able to adapt it a little bit more. Soho is the place to be right now and making this as a long-term thing – nothing would make me happier at the moment."
Jamie Poulton, co-owner of Randall & Aubin in Brewer Street, agreed that the measures had been a resounding success. He told The Caterer: "It has been a lovely surprise to see Soho open and people coming back here to what has historically been a place for everyone to eat, drink and have fun among other pastimes.
"The government's initiative to allow outside seating has without doubt been a success for Soho and it feels as though it is something that should be considered to become permanent. Most European cities have an area that provides this sort of entertainment, it allows for a much gentler atmosphere.
"Currently the people in Soho are not at work, or going to the sadly missed theatres, but they are coming to enjoy what Soho has to offer, which is a spectacular array of amazing, diverse and wonderful restaurants and bars that can accommodate any tastes in an interesting and historically fascinating part of London."
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