'We are still operating on half our usual capacity': Preston hospitality bosses hope for a return to normality in June

Figures have revealed that people have been heading back to eat at Preston restaurants and pubs, but are still a far cry off pre-Covid levels.

Tuesday, 1st June 2021, 4:28 pm

Preston hospitality venues remain hopeful that all restrictions will be lifted on June 21 as footfall figures still remain significantly lower than they did before the Covid-19 outbreak.

Experts from trade body UKHospitality pinpoint full reopening on June 21 as being crucial for getting the hospitality sector "off life support" as revenue sits well below the pre-pandemic levels.

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Paul Butcher of the Stanley Arms says restrictions need to be lifted to resume to pre Covid levels

But, following the recent change in lockdown guidance on May 18, Preston customers have been happy to pick up the bill according to new figures, as spending in restaurants rose when diners were allowed indoors again.

Paul Butcher is the owner of the Stanley Arms on Lancaster Road and told the Post that although people are coming out to support the hospitality businesses, that the reduced capacity and high rent costs still mean that profits are limited.

He said: "We still need to focus on getting these restrictions lifted in order to return to our pre-Covid levels. Currently, with the restrictions, we cannot have anywhere near our usual capacity indoors which affects us as a business when you factor in rent and all our other outgoings.

"Usually our capacity is around 200, but with table service and all the social distancing guidelines, our capacity is closer to 90 which is more than half of our usual numbers we would see on a busy Friday or a Saturday night.

Despite outdoor bookings, such as those pictured here at The Continental, Preston, revenue is still a fraction of before the pandemic

"Even then, that is assuming that all the tables we do have are full and that there is someone sitting on every seat which just doesn't happen. We are still nowhere near where we were before the pandemic and I can imagine it will still take some time before we get there.

"Since we reopened it has been going well for us, but when you take into account that we are still paying full rent costs and taking on more staff to be able to safely implement the indoor restrictions and services whilst running on half our usual takings, your revenue inevitably shrinks.

"There are a lot of costs to a business and the Government support is starting to dwindle out now. The recent grants have covered our costs during this difficult period and helped us survive, but at the same time if the restrictions are going to remain in place then we need that help to continue.

"On top of this, we have lost a lot of our usual office custom with so many people working from home, and a lot of our day trade has dropped off because of the city centre workers who just aren't there anymore.

Restaurants are still having to follow social distancing guidelines indoors as well as strict cleaning regimes

"We have spent so long telling people to wear their masks and explain why we are cleaning everywhere that it will be weird to shift back into normality again. It will be a strange adjustment, but we need it to happen at some point to support our business."

Banking firm Revolut analysed the data of its 4,000 customers in Preston in the seven days to May 23, as they sat down inside restaurants and cafes for the first time this year.

Diners spent 91 per cent more over this period than they did the previous week when only outdoor dining was permitted, with one bill coming to a hefty £294.06.

However, spending was still 25 per cent below a normal week in February last year before the pandemic began.

Despite reopening, many establishments will be unable to have a full house until June 21, when all legal limits on social contact are due to be lifted in England.

Manager of Preston BID Mark Whittle is encouraging people in Preston to support hospitality venues in the city where they can.

He said: “It’s been really encouraging to see people supporting and safely enjoying the city’s leisure offer since May 17, when further restrictions were lifted. Despite capacities still being limited, businesses have worked hard to provide a great experience to customers as they begin to build back business.

"Venues really do need to be operating on a larger capacity basis to ensure their long-term survival, something that we sincerely hope is not too far away now.

"The safety of visitors and customers is incredibly important, and operators locally, and across the country, have proven that they can, and will, manage safe venues where people can enjoy some downtime.

"In the interest of safety, the changes businesses have had to endure cannot be underestimated, but working with their teams and customers it’s been a relatively smooth process thanks to their continued determination.

“Despite the capacities still being limited, businesses have worked hard to provide a great experience to customers as they begin to build back their businesses again.”

Many establishments will be unable to have a full house until June 21, when all legal limits on social contact are due to be lifted in England.

However, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it is too early to say whether the easing of all restrictions will still go ahead as planned.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said: “Current restrictions severely reduce venue capacity, so restaurants' ability to make money is constrained to well below pre-Covid levels.

"Many restaurants have been permanently lost as a result of the pandemic and there are others that, after months of closure and trading restrictions, have not yet reopened.

"A return to unrestricted trading on June 21 is critical and means hospitality businesses will come off life support and be viable for the first time in almost 16 months, and enable companies to bring more staff back.”

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