Road to Recovery

COVID-19: The Hospitality Industry’s Road To Recovery – the Journey So Far

Across the UK, we’ve started to take tentative steps on the government’s Roadmap back to normality.  England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales all have different routes on that journey (see the end of this blog), but the aim is the same: a return to something that resembles ‘normal’ this summer.

In this blog, we look at the challenges and opportunities so far, and what the road ahead looks like if everything goes according to plan!

The public welcomes the lifting of restrictions in England

Just days after some restrictions were lifted to allow outdoor dining in England, Home SW15, a restaurant in Putney, South London, was fully booked for four weeks!  Large crowds were reported in London’s Soho, as demand for outside seating in pubs and restaurants outstripped supply.

The first lifting of restrictions allows groups of up to six people, or groups of any size from no more than two households, to be served outside. 

This has led to complaints from restauranteurs and pub landlords, that they and their staff are having to police customers that are trying to break the rules.  A common example is where large groups book multiple tables under different names.

Kate Nicholls, CEO of trade body UK Hospitality, told the BBC: “We’ve all missed going out to our pubs, bars, restaurants, but we need people to abide by the rules…and be kind to those hospitality staff.”

Hospitality businesses that pivoted

The owner of Home SW15, Craig Gordon, like many enterprising restauranteurs, took on a pop-up site with 40 covers to make the most of the outdoor opportunity, getting customers in before indoor dining is allowed in England, from 17 May.

Some, like Scott Matthews, owner of Relentless Steak & Lobster in Portsmouth, managed to trade before the 12 April lifting of restrictions.  Unable to open his restaurant, he invested his grant money to buy a mobile unit in a car park and sold an adapted version of his menu – including lobster – to takeaway customers.

The Sunday Times reported how, with his restaurants closed, Londoner Jonny Boud, rented an Indian restaurant as a ‘dark kitchen’ to produce food exclusively for delivery.  He now has four delivery brands and secured £1.47 million in seed funding in January.

He told the Sunday Times: “I think the restaurant market will come back, but it’s almost certain that delivery is still going to be a huge part of the hospitality industry in the UK.”

Reopening indoor drinking and dining: conflicting views

According to Sage, the government’s advisory committee, another spike in COVID-19 cases is inevitable as things start to open up.  What is uncertain is whether that spike will be a blip or a surge, as we’ve seen in Europe.

Some experts remain cautious about the reopening of indoor premises.  Clinical epidemiologist, Dr Deepti Gurdasani, was quoted by Sky News as saying: “I’m less concerned about reopening outdoor venues and more concerned about indoor venues, where we know transmission does happen, particularly given that the predominant mode of transmission is aerosol transmission.”

However, some of the UK’s biggest names in hospitality have signed a letter to the prime minister, urging him to stick to the plan to allow indoor dining in England to go ahead on 17 May.

Signatories included CEOs from the likes of Pizza Hut, JD Wetherspoon and Alton Towers.

 The letter also warned against the introduction of ‘COVID passports’ for customers and highlighted how two-thirds of venues were not able to open outdoors, and of those that could, few would break even.

The BBC reports that only 38 per cent of licensed premises (41,000) have designated outdoor areas across England, Scotland and Wales.

Last summer, the government brought in measures to make it easier for pubs, restaurants and cafes to apply for licences to allow outdoor seating. 

Local government secretary, Robert Jenrick, wrote to councils in April urging them to “redouble [their] efforts to promote” the scheme to local hospitality businesses.  He added that the number of businesses using the opportunity “varied drastically across the country”.


What now?

We’ll have to wait and see!  And keep everything crossed that our combined efforts and sacrifices during lockdown – coupled with the vaccine roll out – mean that the Roadmaps can continue as planned.


17 May: Customers can eat and drink indoors, in groups of up to six people, or two households of any size.  Groups seated outside must be under 30 people.


26 April: Non-essential retail, pubs and restaurants to reopen.  Restaurants, bars and cafes can open with alcohol permitted outside and a maximum of six people from six different households.  Indoor areas can open until 20.00 without alcohol and a maximum of six people from two households).

17 May: Outdoors: alcohol permitted – local licensing laws apply (maximum of eight people from eight households outdoors)

Indoors: alcohol permitted – two-hour time slots - closed 22:30 (maximum of six people from three households indoors).


24 April: Six people (not including under-11s or carers) from any number of households can meet outside. Social distancing must still take place when meeting someone from outside a household or social bubble.

26 April: Outdoor hospitality, including pubs, restaurants and cafes, can reopen.

The Welsh government will consider reopening indoor hospitality by the end of May, but don’t plan to announce this until at least 17 May


Northern Ireland

At the time of writing, no dates have been set for pub and restaurant reopening.

Information correct at time of writing - please check the government website for your country to get the most up-to-date details.