Tens of thousands of restaurants, pubs and cafes officially opened in England on Saturday 4th July. For millions of English families it was a long awaited occasion. There was cause for a respectfully modest celebration and some well deserved treats across the country.
The lockdown announced in mid March by Boris Johnson closed everyone’s favourite local drinking and eating venues to prevent the spread of coronavirus throughout the UK. Today Scottish residents were also allowed to visit their favourite dining halls and pubs too as Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed the lifting of the ban across the neighbouring parliamentary region in northern Britain.
According to the Office for National Statistics this Spring there were around 30 thousand licensed restaurants and also around 30 thousand public houses and bars in the United Kingdom. There were about 37 thousand take away food shops and mobile food stands and also just over 20 thousand unlicensed restaurants and cafes. In total there were just over 120 thousand eating and drinking businesses spread over England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. (1)
Although this doesn’t give us an exact number of venues for England, these large figures do tell us the massive importance of these businesses opening to the British economy and our communities and way of life. In fact the UK restaurant industry alone was worth 39.9 billion in 2018 and consumer spending on food and catering services combines has been valued at a whopping 92 billion pounds. (2)
“There is a long-term trend towards people spending more of their household income on eating out and less on drinking out.” say the ONS who looked at the data regarding the number of employees that were assigned to food services as opposed to the number of bar staff that companies in the UK have employed up until 2019. (3)
Publicans and restaurants owners started opening up their premises from 7am on the morning of this very unusual welcome back eventthat was coincidentally scheduled on American Independence Day. This years virus pandemic is global and sadly it has hit the US states hard. This meant that although there were still some fireworks at the White House there was no fantastic celebrations, in a marked contrast to the previous years events.
Similarly there has been no big rush to create parties and pub crawls to remember. Apart from some special city areas, like the streets around London’s Soho district, the reaction from the public has been on the whole a little hesitant, gradual and low key.
Many Brits are very cautious about eating and drinking out in public. Economic confidence is low and as they said on Radio 4’s Today program this morning “people feel more comfortable at home” this summer. This is because there is no risk they could catch a virus or any other bug that may affect their health if they cook in their own kitchens and garden barbecues.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that younger people are more confident about enjoying their leisure time with having meals and snacks with friends at public establishments. They are on the whole less fearful of catching the contagion as it is usually less harmful to younger people who may not even realise they have become infected at all as they may have no symptoms.
Wearing face masks and gloves in public presents a practical challenge for diners of all ages. It is impossible to enjoy a meal with your household and actually consume dishes in a relaxed way of you are wearing a face-mask. Of course hands can be washed and tables and chairs pre-sanitised but realistically people will be taking off their face-masks to eat what has been ordered.
Therefore a restaurant waiter or waitress must make sure they can assist the dining group with drinks or sauces or whatever they need in a careful manor. This avoids inadvertently passing on a serious pathogen, if they are unknowingly contagious with Covid-19 but possibly asymptomatic. Sitting outside in the fresh air makes this easier and less risky for everyone. Most organisations have given their employees the option as to which mask if any they wish to wear as they carry out their duties in their workplace.
Restaurants and other leisure venues and facilities opening up over the coming weeks will undoubtedly help to bring the ‘footfall’ back to our commercial hubs. Tourists returning to English cities once the ‘air bridges’ are leaping into action between the UK and other European countries will also really make a much needed positive difference to retail and leisure sales figures.
Yesterday restaurants in Portsmouth in Hampshire were enjoying the benefits of mostly domestic visitors taking the opportunity for day trips along the coast while a mostly fair week of weather is in the forecast and the sunlight hours are long. One lady said the most difficult thing about being a European tourist exploring the area was the difficulty in locating safe and open toilet facilities as many of the usual amenities are still shut.
In an effort to support the recovery of the hospitality industry the Chancellor Rishi Sunak has recently promised a special government sponsored half price meal deal promotion throughout all of August. Registrations for the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme started on Monday via the central Gov.UK website. Companies can add their details to what will become an online database of restaurants who will then receive a weekly ‘subsidy payment’ to cover the difference in the price received on the discounted meals they have already provided at a reduced cost. (4)
This summer packed lunches and picnics are the order of the day as long as the warm weather holds. It is vital for economic recovery in England that the ‘Eat out to Help Out’ scheme will help boost confidence in the sector.
Encouraging understandably anxious folk to start socialising and spending again on going out after they have been told to stay in as much as possible for more than 3 months is always going to be challenging. A half price offer is a great way to kick start the struggling industry and it will be a welcome bonus for families looking to entertain children over the school holidays.
The ability for teenagers and adults in Great Britain to feel they are able to financially afford to have any disposable income that can be spent on the pricier option of going out for lunch or dinner depends on their job security situation. Whether demand can bounce back over the next year or two like it did after the financial crash of 2008 remains to be seen especially as social distancing and PPE is here to stay as everybody and every business adapts to ‘new normal’ lifestyles all across the globe.
(1) ‘Number of restaurants, takeaways, cafes, bars and pubs in the UK’ Office for National Statistics, 28 January 2020 Number of eating establishments in UK statistics by ONS
(2) ‘Restaurant industry in the United Kingdom (UK) – Statistics & Facts’, Statista Research Department, 3 September 2018 ‘Restaurant industry UK statistics’ Statista research
(3) ‘Economies of ale: changes in the UK pubs and bars sector, 2001 to 2019’ Office for National Statitics
16 January 2020 UK pubs, bars sector 2001 to 2019 Office for National Statistics
(4) ‘HMRC invites hospitality industry to register for Eat Out to Help Out’, HM Revenue and Customs
13 July 2020 ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ by HM Rev Customs