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Pubs deluged with beer garden bookings

A beer garden in Cornwall

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England’s pubs have been deluged by people eager to book space from when beer gardens reopen on 12 April, industry group UK Hospitality has said.

From that date, pubs are expected to be able to serve customers sitting outdoors.

One Leeds pub reported that it had taken in 700 bookings in just five hours this week.

Demand has been so high that scammers have even taken to advertising fake pub bookings.

Pubs in most of the UK have been closed to sit-in customers during the latest lockdown, creating pent-up demand.

“Our members that can open outdoor areas have reported strong interest from customers, which is not surprising after such a long period of closure,” said Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality.

During the most recent lockdown, pubs in England have been allowed to serve takeaway food and non-alcoholic drinks until 23:00 GMT, but not takeaway alcohol. Pubs have been closed to customers wishing to sit in throughout the UK.

In Scotland, alcohol cannot currently be sold for outdoor consumption, while venues are closed on the mainland except for takeaways picked up outside the premises, although they are open on some of the islands. Hospitality venues on the mainland are set to reopen from about 26 April.

In Wales, pubs can sell takeaway drinks if licensed, and in Northern Ireland, takeaway off-sales must stop at 20:00 GMT.

When the Water Lane Boathouse pub in Leeds announced on Wednesday that bookings were open, it had more than 700 in just five hours.

“Please bear with us as we work our way through them,” it told customers on Twitter.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

The rush to secure pub places when lockdown lifts prompted one fraudster to advertise fake bookings for a south London pub at £15 a time.

The scammer posted an ad on Craigslist claiming: “I have taken the liberty of procuring all the bookings at the Half Moon Pub in Herne Hill, from 12-close in the date range 12-18 April.

“Love it or hate it, now you must pay for it. £15 per booking.”

The ad has since been removed.

‘Pent-up demand’

Wiremill near Lingfield in Surrey

Yummy Pubs

At the Wiremill, near Lingfield in Surrey, bookings have been flooding in, even though the pub has not advertised its reopening plans.

“We’re almost fully booked for the first week of opening and have already got about 2,500 people booked in for the first two weeks, even though we haven’t gone out to tell customers,” says pub owner Tim Foster, who runs the four-strong Yummy Pubs chain.

“They’ve all come from inquiries, people asking when we’ll be open and if they can book.”

The pub used the time after the first lockdown to boost its outdoor area and double the capacity.

“We’re now capable of seating 230 outside, or 160 with social distancing, but we’ll limit bookings to around 50% capacity for the first couple of weeks to help us and our customers get used to it,” Mr Foster said.

Pubs will be helped by not having to keep to a 22:00 curfew, as they were last time they were allowed to open, but bookings are coming in at a high level for every day, he said.

“We’ll be full every day, not just the weekends. There’s a huge pent-up demand – people are desperate to get out of their houses.”

Booking boom

Other pub chains have reported an uplift in bookings.

“We experienced a 300% spike in bookings when the roadmap was announced,” said Zoe Cooper, senior marketing executive at the Inn Collection Group, which has 15 pubs in north-eastern and north-western England.

“We’re looking forward to welcoming guests back.”

A spokesperson for Fuller Smith & Turner, which runs about 400 pubs around the country, said: “People are clearly keen to get back to the pub and where we are opening our gardens and patios on 12 April, we’ve seen a high number of people pre-booking their tables.

“We just can’t wait to welcome our customers back into our pubs. It’s been a long time coming.”

Mitchells & Butlers owns a number of national pub chains, including All Bar One, Browns, Castle and Harvester.

It said it would open 250-300 pubs in England on 12 April, and about 100 more from the Bank Holiday weekend at the end of the month.

“In pubs which do reopen, we’ll be encouraging customers to use apps to both pre-book and then to order from their table,” a spokesperson said.

Reopening plans

Last month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that he hoped that hospitality venues could reopen from 12 April for outdoor service only.

The reopenings depend on how the pandemic progresses in the next few weeks.

But if all goes as planned, people will be able to meet friends or family in beer gardens or to eat dinner outside as a group of six or a mixture of two households.

Booking rules

“Bookings will not be mandatory, although lots of venues will probably implement a booking system,” said UK Hospitality’s Ms Nicholls.

“Businesses will have their own systems in place for managing high demand, processing bookings and ensuring high levels of safety are met.”

One chain where you won’t need to book is Wetherspoons. It said this week it would reopen 394 of its 750 England pubs with outdoor spaces, including beer gardens, rooftops gardens and patios.

But the pub reopenings on 12 April are only a small part of the industry, pointed out Ms Nicholls.

“April isn’t going to represent a reopening of any significance, or a reopening at all, for much of the sector. We need to remember that nearly 60% of hospitality businesses don’t have outdoor areas and many that do only have small spaces.”

Pubs and restaurants will be given the green light to offer indoor seating from 17 May, providing specific Covid conditions are met.

From that date, indoor parties can be made up of a maximum of six people or two households of any size, while groups seated outside must be smaller than 30 people.

From 21 June, all restrictions could be lifted.

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