Pubs and restaurants up and down the country are preparing to open tomorrow – dubbed Super Saturday – for the first time since lockdown began, as Brits readjust to life under social distancing.
Bars and eateries will be allowed to open their doors for the first time using measures such as table service and visitor limits to help adhere to distancing rules.
However, some businesses have questioned whether enough is being done to encourage people to leave the safety of their homes.
“The current messaging of ‘only essential travel’ with continued advice to ‘avoid public transport’ is not appropriate for central London, which plays such a crucial role in the UK’s economy,” said Ros Morgan, chief executive of Heart of London Business Alliance, whose members include Fortnum & Mason and the Royal Academy.
“Changes to social distancing measures from two metres to ‘one metre plus’, have been welcomed. However it cannot benefit our businesses if the public do not travel into central London.”
Research conducted by health and safety firm Protecting showed just one in five Brits feel comfortable enough to go to the pub this weekend. Instead many suggested they want to wait and see if it is safe first.
Pub giant JD Wetherspoon is set to reopen all of its nearly 900 pubs tomorrow, including City haunts such as the Crosse Keys and Hamilton Hall.
However, the chain is encouraging people to consider visiting between Sunday and Thursday, adding: “Monday is the new Saturday.”
Other landlords such as Shepherd Neame, All Bar One owner Mitchells & Butlers and Fullers plan to stagger the reopening process to adapt operations to social distancing rules.
The City Corporation’s Planning and Transportation Committee said it has been considering moves to reallocate some street space to al fresco dining, and is waiting for Royal Assent for a bill to provide pavement licences.
“During the weekend and in the days that follow, my colleagues and I are looking forward to bars, pubs, cafés and restaurants reopening in the City, thereby, seeing a degree of normality returning to the area,” said the committee’s chair, Alastair Moss.
“As long as we continue to follow government guidelines and maintain social distancing, the safe, sustainable and gradual return of people to the Square Mile is to be warmly welcomed and encouraged.”
All hospitality venues must also now keep a register of visitors entering their premises, in order to assist the NHS with its Test and Trace system.
Wetherspoon plans to ask customers to fill out a form with their contact details, marking their arrival and departure times before dropping it into a box at the end of their visit.
Others will rely on pre-booking systems, such as those already present in restaurants and hairdressers, to create a digital record.
“The virus has not gone, but we can live more safely alongside it,” said NHS Test and Trace chair Baroness Dido Harding.
“As we all start to visit more places and come into contact with a wider group of people in the coming weeks, we now need businesses and the public to play their part in this new national effort by sharing their contact details.”
Just 42 per cent of businesses told UK Hospitality earlier this week that they plan to open tomorrow. That includes those that have already lifted the shutters.
Transport bodies fear Tube crowds
Transport bodies have urged the Metropolitan police and Transport for London to step up their monitoring of London Tube stations and across the bus network, as they seek to mitigate a rush of people heading out for a drink.
London Travelwatch has asked TfL to make preparations for possible overcrowding (by social distancing standards), with 28 per cent more Londoners expected to make journeys by public transport this weekend.
Meanwhile rail union RMT raised concerns about protecting staff from the spread of coronavirus.
“RMT is seriously concerned that the reopening of the pubs may well run alongside a loosening of the safety and social distancing regulations that we have agreed across the transport network and that must not be allowed to happen,” said senior assistant general secretary Mick Lynch.
“There is a real danger that some people may roll out of the pubs and onto our buses, tubes and trains without keeping their distance and flaunting the requirement to wear masks.”