Hotels and restaurants were flooded with customer bookings after ministers gave vast swathes of the hospitality industry permission to reopen on July 4, raising hopes of a rapid summer recovery for thousands of ailing businesses.
Pent-up demand from consumers eager to dine out and holiday in Britain led to a surge in reservations following Boris Johnson’s announcement, forcing some businesses to take down their websites as they worked through the backlog.
The Pig, a boutique chain of high-end hotels and restaurants across the south of England, said that bookings in the three hours after the Prime Minister’s announcement were treble those of a day earlier. Website visits climbed 120pc.
Steak restaurant group Gaucho – which opened bookings to customers last week at 12 of its 19 sites – said it received 3,000 reservations on Tuesday alone, causing its website to crash. It now has 10,000 reservations on its books, 3,000 of them for its July 4 opening weekend.
Meanwhile visits to the website of holiday park operator Haven tripled as families rushed to book last-minute staycations.
Robin Hutson, who runs The Pig hotels and restaurants, said the lockdown has given consumers a new appreciation for the hospitality industry.
He said: “A solid return for our sector will not only do wonders for our economy but for the mental health of the nation.”
Martin Williams, chief executive of Gaucho, added: “There is clearly a groundswell of people who over the last two to three months have really started to appreciate how much they love restaurants and what they bring to their lives.”
However, he warned that restaurants are likely entering a honeymoon period and will require further support from both government and landlords to ensure the industry’s survival in the longer term.
As part of the easing of lockdown restrictions from July 4, Mr Johnson said people should continue to remain two metres apart where possible, but a “one metre plus” rule will be introduced.
People will be encouraged to use “mitigation” such as face coverings and plastic screens between tables, and to avoid sitting face-to-face when they are less than two metres apart.
Pubs and restaurants will be required to operate a seated service when they reopen and customers will be asked to register their details before entering a premises.
Cinemas will also be allowed to reopen from July 4, but both Cineworld and Vue said they will start showing films from July 10.
Mike Cherry of the Federation of Small Businesses welcomed the relaxation of social distancing rules, but warned it would mean added costs for small firms forced to buy screens, face coverings, hand sanitiser and other protective measures.
He said: “The Government should come forward with back to work vouchers to help businesses recover these costs.”
Richard Caring, the restaurateur behind The Ivy and Annabel’s nightclub, urged the Government to publish detailed guidance on how the industry should reopen safely as soon as possible.
He said: “We’re thrilled that the social distancing policy has been reduced to one metre but we don’t know the full details yet.”
Mr Caring said his restaurants will hold off from announcing a firm reopening date until the full guidance is published.
The changes were welcomed by Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UKHospitality. She said the new rules will allow most sites to trade at 70pc of their normal capacity, compared with 30pc under the two-metre rule.
However, Ms Nicholls warned that businesses will continue to be hampered by social distancing, with some unable to trade viably at all.
She said: “We need financial help from the Government, otherwise some of these businesses are going to go under right at the point at which they are allowed to open once again.”
Not all leisure and hospitality venues were given the freedom to reopen from July 4.
Venues such as swimming pools, indoor gyms, nightclubs and other indoor leisure facilities will remain closed. The Government is aiming to open gyms and fitness centres from mid-July, according to a tweet by culture secretary Oliver Dowden.
Humphrey Cobbold, chief executive of PureGym, said he was deeply disappointed that gyms were excluded from the July 4 reopening plans, adding that the decision was at odds with the Prime Minister’s ambitions to improve the nation’s fitness.
Mr Cobbold said: “We understand that these decisions are not easy, but it is a strange ‘war on obesity’ that sees pubs and restaurants open before gyms.
“We urgently call on the Prime Minister to re-examine the evidence, engage with us and our industry bodies, and allow people back into gyms as soon as possible.”