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COVID-19: ‘Light at the end of the tunnel’ as pubs and bars announce outdoor area reopening plans

Written by on 5 March 2021

Wetherspoons will open patios, beer gardens and rooftop gardens at 394 of its pubs in England from 12 April as COVID-19 restrictions ease, the pub chain has announced.

Under the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, that will be the date when restaurants and bars will be allowed to serve people sitting outside, under social distancing rules.

They will be allowed to open indoors from 17 May.

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Revolution Bars undated photo handout sent 2/10/2018 Image: Revolution Bars expects to be boosted by pent-up demand

Revolution Bars, another chain, said it would reopen 20 venues from April as its boss said “the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter”.

Wetherspoons chairman and founder and chairman Tim Martin has previously argued that the hospitality sector should be allowed to reopen earlier, at the same time as non-essential shops.

Its plan for next month will see outside areas open from 9am to 9pm from Sunday to Thursday, and until 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays – subject to closing time restrictions.

A reduced menu will include breakfasts, burgers, pizzas, and fish and chips.

Wetherspoons, which runs around 870 pubs in the UK, said customers at the reopened sites would be able to order at the table and be served either through its app or by staff.

They will be able to enter pubs to gain access to the outside areas and to use the toilet.

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Businesses disappointed by roadmap

The announcement comes after Chancellor Rishi Sunak extended a business rates holiday and VAT cut for the hospitality sector in the budget, as well as extending the furlough scheme.

Analysts at Liberum said: “This (support) should provide operators with confidence to manage the immediate pain of the continued enforced closure, and support a recovery in sales, profit and cash in the months ahead.”

Revolution Bars welcomed the government’s extension of support. It said it anticipated “significant pent-up demand” would lead to a “rapid rebound in trading”.

Chief executive Rob Pitcher said the industry remained “on the critical list”.

But he added: “With the encouraging progress of the vaccination programme, clarity in the timetable to reopening, and the additional financial support measures announced by the chancellor, the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter.”

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Pubs boss makes case for safe reopening

Also on Thursday, Marston’s – which operates 1,500 pubs – said it had formally asked creditors for more breathing space over debt agreements as it comes under pressure due to the latest lockdown measures.

It added that it was confident of strong demand once its pubs are allowed to reopen fully, after they performed well last summer following the end of the first lockdown.

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