Drinks sales soar in England’s reopened pubs and restaurants

Rob Davies
·5-min read
<span>Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

Pubs and restaurants in England that opened on Monday sold twice as many drinks as they did before the coronavirus pandemic struck, according to figures charting Britain’s rush for the first socially distanced pints of spring.

While the majority of venues remain closed due to a ban on indoor service, those that did welcome guests appear to have prospered from pent-up thirst.

One pub boss spoke of “Christmas trading” as venues with beer gardens and outdoor terraces enjoyed higher-than-average sales for a Monday in April, despite snowy weather across parts of the country.

(March 8, 2021) Step 1, part 1

In effect from 8 March, all pupils and college students returned fully. Care home residents can receive one regular, named visitor.

(March 29, 2021) Step 1, part 2

In effect from 29 March, outdoor gatherings allowed of up to six people, or two households if this is larger, not just in parks but also gardens. Outdoor sport for children and adults allowed. The official stay at home order ends, but people will be encouraged to stay local. People will still be asked to work from home where possible, with no overseas travel allowed beyond the current small number of exceptions.

(April 12, 2021) Step 2

In effect from 12 April, non-essential retail, hair and nail salons, and some public buildings such as libraries and commercial art galleries can reopen. Most outdoor venues can open, including pubs and restaurants, but only for outdoor tables and beer gardens. Customers will have to be seated but there will be no need to have a meal with alcohol.

Also reopening are settings such as zoos and theme parks. However, social contact rules will still apply here, so no indoor mixing between households and limits on outdoor mixing. Indoor leisure facilities such as gyms and pools can also open, but again people can only go alone or with their own household. Reopening of holiday lets with no shared facilities is also allowed, but only for one household. Funerals can have up to 30 attendees, while weddings, receptions and wakes can have 15.

(May 17, 2021) Step 3

Again with the caveat "no earlier than 17 May", depending on data, vaccination levels and current transmission rates.

Step 3 entails that most mixing rules are lifted outdoors, with a limit of 30 people meeting in parks or gardens. Indoor mixing will be allowed, up to six people or, if it is more people, two households. Indoor venues such as the inside of pubs and restaurants, hotels and B&Bs, play centres, cinemas and group exercise classes will reopen. The new indoor and outdoor mixing limits will remain for pubs and other hospitality venues.

For sport, indoor venues can have up to 1,000 spectators or half capacity, whichever is lower; outdoors the limit will be 4,000 people or half capacity, whichever is lower. Very large outdoor seated venues, such as big football stadiums, where crowds can be spread out, will have a limit of 10,000 people, or a quarter full, whichever is fewer. Weddings will be allowed a limit of 30 people, with other events such as christenings and barmitzvahs also permitted.

This will be the earliest date at which international holidays could resume, subject to a separate review.

(June 21, 2021) Step 4

No earlier than 21 June, all legal limits will be removed on mixing, and the last sectors to remain closed, such as nightclubs, will reopen. Large events can take place.

Peter Walker Political correspondent

Overall sales at 1,687 licensed premises monitored by the CGA Drinks Recovery Tracker were 58.6% higher than they were for the equivalent day in 2019, the last comparable date before the pandemic took hold.

While food sales were down 11.7%, demand for the first meet-ups in pubs and restaurants for more than three months meant that drinks sales more than doubled, rising 113.8%.

While the figures offer encouraging signs for the recovery of the hospitality sector, the data only covers a relatively small portion of venues that were open. Only 38% of venues monitored by the CGA, about 41,000 premises, have outdoor space. Not all of those were able to open.

The chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) also pointed to the fact that most had remain closed, with only 40% of pubs, about 15,000 premises, able to open – and at reduced capacity.

“Whilst many have gone back to their local for a pint, it’s not all roses in the pub beer garden,” said Emma McClarkin.

“Even though they seem full, the reality is pubs are operating with just 20% of the space they’d usually have … It is for this reason we need pubs to open indoors and out as soon as possible and the restrictions to be removed to allow us a chance at trading viably and making any kind of profit.

“With so few tables and spaces available in pubs for outdoors service only, we implore people that if they can no longer make their booking, notify the pub so they don’t miss out and someone else can get the table instead.”

Pubs, bars and restaurants are due to be allowed to serve customers indoors from 17 May, having suffered more than almost any other industry from coronavirus.

S4Labour, which provides software services to more than 2,000 hospitality businesses, said its customers’ combined sales were higher than 2019, even including those that were shut.

Overall sales were up 0.5% compared with 2019, with a 5.4% increase in drink sales making up for a 4.75% decline in food.

The company pointed out that the increase was achieved despite the fact that many venues woke up to find their outdoor spaces covered in snow, whereas the equivalent Monday in April 2019 was sunny and warm.