Pub owners have said Britons are “desperate” to have drinks with their friends again as venues have been flooded with bookings with weeks to go until they reopen to the public.
Venues said their outdoor tables have been booked out for weeks after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his timetable for the reopening of hospitality.
The road map laid out plans for pubs, restaurants and bars to reopen outdoor areas from April 12, with customers welcome inside again from May 17.
Clive Watson, founder and chairman of the London-based City Pub Group, said his sites have been flooded with bookings.
“It’s gone gangbusters,” he said. “People are desperate to catch up with their friends.
“If we only had baked beans on the menu they would still book.
“We’ve got really good bookings, particularly for outdoor seating, but also for indoors from May 17 and lots of inquiries about bigger bookings from June.”
However, he told the PA news agency there is a long road to recover for the sector.
“Let’s not pretend we are off to the races yet,” Mr Watson said.
“There are still a lot of people who are cautious about booking, and we’ve definitely seen particularly caution with things like weddings and events where deposits are needed.
“A lot of people can’t wait to come back but we still have a lot of uncertainty to deal with.”
Pub group Fuller’s also hailed strong pent-up demand from potential customers after months of closures in many areas.
A spokesman for the chain said: “We are certainly taking a high level of bookings – people clearly can’t wait to get back to the pub, which is great to see.”
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade group UKHospitality, said: “Feedback from our members is that bookings are very strong for the first few weeks of outdoor reopening in April.
“It is unsurprising, after the dreadful year we have had, that people are eager to socialise with friends and family again.
“Venues will implement their own methods to tackle no-shows and, for some, that might include a form of deposit – no-shows are a nuisance at the best of times but, with businesses still so fragile, their impacts would be hugely compounded.”
However, the reopening timetable has come under significant scrutiny from operators.
Punch Taverns founder Hugh Osmond and Greater Manchester’s night-time economy adviser, Sacha Lord, have both threatened court action against the plan to reopen indoor hospitality after non-essential retail stores.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, they said there is no “evidence of justification” for hospitality venues to welcome customers inside at a later date.
It comes as new figures show that around 2,000 pubs are estimated to have shut for good over the past year after the UK first entered lockdown restrictions.
The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) also claimed 2.1 billion pints in beer sales were lost due to a full year of either forced closure or limited trading under restrictions.
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the BBPA, said: “Our sector has been devastated by Covid-19 and the lockdowns. It has been a year to forget for the Great British Pub.”