Sector Spotlight: The Restaurant Sector Gets Ready for a Post-Covid Comeback

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As the UK celebrates the gradual reopening of the economy, businesses are navigating the changing rules and consumer buying patterns. Here’s how the restaurant sector is progressing in relation to the government roadmap. 

We’ve just hit a huge milestone for the restaurant sector: on the 12th April, businesses in the food service industry could start serving customers outside. 

In this article, we’re exploring how things are unfolding for those running a restaurant business. We’ll look at the industry’s key dates on the roadmap, statistics on customer demand and the support you can still access through the government. 

How will restaurants make a comeback in a post-COVID world?

By now, most people are aware of the two key dates for businesses in the restaurant sector: 

  • Monday 12th April - Hospitality venues can start serving customers outdoors 

  • Monday 17th May - Hospitality venues can start serving customers indoors 

Like most of the guidance delivered during the pandemic, restrictions for the restaurant sector between the 12th April and the 17th May come with a few extra conditions: 

  • Restaurants can serve customers in car parks and on pavements if they don’t have a dedicated outdoor dining area

  • Restaurants don’t need to impose a curfew

  • Customers must order and consume their food and drinks while seated

  • Customers don’t need to have a substantial meal with alcohol 

  • Customers should stay seated unless using the toilets or baby-changing facilities 

  • Customers should maintain social distancing with other tables and groups (2m apart, or 1+ metres where 2m isn’t possible) 

  • Businesses serving food and drinks can also continue delivering takeaways without a specific licence. This automatic right was introduced at the start of the pandemic, and has been extended until March 2022. 

Today is a major step forward in our road map to freedom. I’m sure it will be a huge relief to those business owners who have been closed for so long.
—Boris Johnson, 12th April 2021

Customer demand ahead of the restaurant sector comeback

Research has provided an insight into how businesses in the restaurant sector can expect to perform as we prepare for the UK reopening: 

  • Only 38 percent of licensed premises have outdoor dining space - Although media outlets published countless stories and photos of restaurants reopening their doors on the 12th April, studies show the majority have been forced to stay shut. In Britain, 80 percent of pubs but only 11 percent of casual dining restaurants have outdoor space, so 62 percent of eateries in general can’t open until the 17th May (CGA). 

  • Over a quarter of Brits plan to eat out more often - Statistics show consumers are eager to get back out and enjoy meals at local restaurants, pubs and cafes. In fact, while 19 percent of Brits say they’ll eat out less than they did before the pandemic, 27 percent plan to go to restaurants more frequently (CGA). 

  • Young consumers are more enthusiastic about outdoor dining than older ones - Young consumers make up a high proportion of the people who plan to dine out more regularly (CGA).

  • 42 percent of people have become more money-conscious during the pandemic - While 22 percent of consumers have noticed an increase in the amount of disposable income they have, 14 percent have experienced financial hardship. It’s unsurprising over four in 10 people have become more price-conscious - including 45 percent of those who plan to eat out less in the future (AHDB/YouGov Consumer Tracker). 

Restaurant sector trends amid the UK reopening

After almost 100 days of lockdown, restaurants serving people outside saw high levels of demand on the 12th April, despite cold weather and even snow in some UK regions. Business owners were relieved to see such a spike in bookings, as they had collectively invested around £286 million in lease agreements and equipment in order to legally operate outdoors (British Beer and Pub Association). 

London was particularly busy on the 12th April, with people travelling across the capital to visit their favourite cafes and eateries. Double the number of residents used busy tube stations between 10am and midday compared to the 6th April, the first work day of the previous week. Plus, the number of journeys taken rose by 15 percent on Transport For London buses and 18 percent on the London Underground (The Guardian). 

Although London only saw a third of the journeys it used to clock up before the pandemic, the rapid rise in demand for transport is reassuring for the restaurant industry. 

Des Gunewardena, Chief Executive of D&D London, was just one of the restaurant professionals to comment on the surge in demand on the 12th April. He had double the number of bookings for the following three weeks than in the same period in 2019 - and more than triple the number of last July’s ‘Super Saturday’. Although interest was still just at a third of pre-pandemic levels, it was a step in the right direction for the restaurant sector. 

We are packed to the rafters everywhere. Bookings are totally unprecedented. I have never seen anything like it in all the years I have been in the restaurant business.
–Des Gunewardena, Chief Executive of fine dining group D&D London, 12th April 2021

What government support is still available for businesses in the restaurant sector?

Not all businesses have been able to start welcoming customers back yet - and some are still trying to recoup significant losses. So, here are the government support packages still available for companies in the restaurant sector: 

  • The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme  (open until September 2021)

  • The Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme

  • The Vat Deferral New Payment Scheme (open until the 21st June 2021)

  • Business rates holiday for the 2020 to 2021 tax year covering retail, hospitality and leisure companies in England

  • The Recovery Loan Scheme

  • The Covid-19 Corporate Financing Facility

  • The Coronavirus Restart Grant

  • The Coronavirus Additional Restrictions Grant

  • The Local Restrictions Support Grants 

  • More guidance on running a franchise in the restaurant sector

Point Franchise is dedicated to providing expert tips and advice for franchisors and franchisees across all industries and sectors. Find more handy business guides in our article catalogue.

For more information on the future of the hospitality industry, why not take a look at our dedicated guide, 2021 Outlook: The State of Franchising in the Restaurant Sector? 

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