Here comes the sun? Preparations underway for roadmap ‘Step 2’Owen Mitchell
While the UK bathed in some much-awaited sunshine this week and passed the first checkpoint on the roadmap out of coronavirus restrictions, the government revealed further details concerning the reopening of the UK’s retail sector on 12th April, marking Step 2.
From next month, non-essential shops in England will be permitted to open for extended hours; from 7am until 10pm. The revised opening hours, which were first introduced in the lead up to the Christmas period last year, are expected to be welcomed by shoppers as the government attempts to maximise potential expenditure to reboot the UK economy. Communities secretary Robert Jenrick said that the new opening hours would “provide a much-needed boost for many businesses”, whilst relieving pressure on public transport at peak times to support safe shopping. For the hospitality sector, expectations are more mixed, with the imminent return of alfresco dining set to create opportunities for some businesses, and major challenges for others.
Indeed, in the run up to 12th April, restaurants, pubs and bars across the UK will prepare to utilise their outdoor space to maximise profitability, while local councils plan to transform streets into alfresco dining rooms, temporarily closing roads, widening pavements and creating make-shift pavement-dining licences. Evidently, the success of reopening hospitality will depend on businesses’ ability to use outdoor space effectively – especially as it is now clear the government will not repeat its immensely popular ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme.
According to a study by data analysts CGA and advisory firm AlixPartners, only 41,100 venues in Britain have a garden, terrace, car park or other area in which they could potentially seat customers: approximately two in five of all plots. Although more than 80% of community pubs have a beer garden, only 12% of dining restaurants have outdoor space and are therefore likely to be the hardest hit during this next phase. Premises which have little or no access to open air facilities will be disproportionately affected, to the extent that many businesses have already stated they will not open their doors next month due to a lack of projected profitability.
For venues that do have access to outdoor areas, there are still various issues that could restrict trading, such as a lack of tourists and office workers in the inner cities, famously unpredictable weather, and the temporary limitation of two households (or up to six people) meeting. The unknowns, as ever, are also abundant. How eagerly will potential customers emerge from lockdown and spend? Will outdoor alfresco dining areas be enough to turn a profit? And if public authorities are more prepared to manage overcrowding, what effect will this have on commerce for venues in popular areas such as London’s West End?
Despite this uncertainty, hospitality businesses able to open on the 12thApril are cautiously optimistic. They believe that pent-up demand will be enough to see profitability soar – and this is being reflected in reports of mass advance bookings for outdoor dining across the sector. We hope this optimism is justified – and that those businesses left behind during Step 2 of recovery will be able ride out the temporary block on indoor services until Step 3 is expected to launch on 17 May. For now, we will have to wait and see.