Diners desperate for a post-lockdown treat have fuelled a surge in bookings that has seen some restaurants booked out until autumn but the rush has prompted some owners to ask for payment upfront.
Fed up owners struggling to stay afloat amid the coronavirus lockdown are now asking that customers pay for meals when they book a table in an effort to stamp out ‘no-shows’.
The move comes as the country gears up to open restaurants for outdoor dining once more on April 12.
Owner Kay Treadwel, who runs the 670 Grams restaurant in Birmingham, said her venue has begun taking prepayments for bookings for customers wishing to try their ten course tasting menu – which costs up to £70.
Restaurants have seen a surge in bookings but the rush has prompted some owners to ask for payment upfront. Pictured: Diners eating out in Soho, London
She told The Sunday Times: ‘We’re such a small restaurant, if the table of four doesn’t turn up on a Friday night, then we lose hundreds of pounds.
‘It’s like getting a ticket to the theatre. If you can’t go that night, you can give it to your friend.’
Meanwhile chief executive of UK Hospitality, Kate Nicholls, said: ‘No-shows are a nuisance at the best of times but, with businesses still so fragile, their impacts would be hugely compounded.’
Experts predict about 40 per cent of Britain’s eating establishments will open for outdoor service on April 12 but customers looking for a table may find they are already too late.
Stephen Harris of gastropub The Sportsman, in Whitstable, Kent, said: ‘We are completely full until September. If you want to come on a Saturday night, we aren’t free until the end of October.’
The owner and chef at the Michelin-star establishment added: ‘We get people coming from New York, Tokyo and Stockholm and we are finding that even now. People are booking from everywhere.
‘Our staff taking bookings on the phones have received abuse from people not being able to get booked in.’
Owner Stephen Harris of gastropub The Sportsman (pictured), in Whitstable, Kent, said the venue was completely full until September
The owners of restaurants such as 20 Stories in Manchester (pictured) and Angelica in Leeds also reported seeing a rise in bookings
D&D London, the owners of restaurants such as 20 Stories in Manchester and Angelica in Leeds, said that they have taken double the number of bookings they took in the brief window they were able to open last summer.
Senior sales manager Becky Wilkes, told The Mail on Sunday: ‘We have already taken 50,000 bookings since the announcement and we are still a full month ahead of reopening.’
The majority of restaurants will be unable to open until at least May 17, however, as they do not have enough outdoor seating.
But the surge in bookings is a bright spot for the battered hospitality industry, which lost £74 billion in sales last year, costing 660,000 jobs.
Some 12,000 premises closed in 2020, while high street favourites such as Carluccio’s, Zizzi, Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Frankie & Benny’s were forced to restructure.
The Government hopes the bookings revival will help the economy bounce back quickly and consumers will want to spend some of the £180 billion they are reported to have saved during lockdown.
Industry chiefs have welcomed Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s VAT cut and restart grants but warn millions more jobs are still at risk if restrictions are not lifted as planned.
The UK Hospitality trade association’s Chief Executive Kate Nicholls said: ‘We are hearing very positive reports from our members about the level of enquiries and bookings they are currently taking and it is good to see that people haven’t lost their appetite for eating out.’
But she added: ‘Our estimate was that a million businesses in the sector and the wider supply chain are vulnerable unless we get a confirmed reopening date on May 17 with reduced restrictions and a removal of all social distancing restrictions as promised for June 21.
‘Any social distancing restrictions mean we cannot break even and with the Government support falling away at the end of June, it is imperative that they can trade freely to try to recover.’
Restaurants, pubs and bars spent a total of £900 million to make their venues Covid-safe last year and many are revamping outdoor areas ahead of an Alfresco April, where six people or two households are allowed to gather outside.
Craft in Birmingham have outdoor pods for diners and said they were fully booked until July.
Chief executive Sam Morgan said: ‘We’ve had an incredible response since we announced we are taking reservations for April. We’re very lucky.’