The sunny weather made it a bumper few days for the hospitality sector at the weekend even if only pubs and restaurants with gardens or outside seating were allowed to trade.
Data from food and drink researcher CGA showed that the hospitality venues that did open in England last week enjoyed a stronger bounce in sales than after the first national lockdown in July 2020.
Like-for-like sales at pubs, bars and restaurants that were trading in the seven days from last Monday (12 April) were 45% higher than in the week from 4 July 2020, when they were able to resume both inside and outdoor service.
Sales were also around 1% higher than a roughly comparable week in April 2019 but the CGA added that just 23% of England’s licensed premises were welcoming guests, meaning total sales remain far below pre-pandemic levels.
Jonny Jones, CGA’s managing director, UK & Ireland, said: “Drink sales performance in the first week shows an encouraging start to the On-Premise recovery.
“With capacity for outlets that have reopened significantly limited by outdoor only trading, like-for-like sales trends are ahead of the first week after lockdown 1 and strong against the equivalent week in 2019.
Pent-up demand from consumers to get back out into pubs, bars and restaurants is clear and the first visit fear that many had in July last year is now playing less of a role.
Referring to the CGA stats, UK Hospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “It is wonderful to see busy venues again, as people can at long last meet with friends after three months of lockdown, albeit only outdoors.
Trading in such circumstances was always likely to benefit from a welcome initial spike but the return of limited trading cannot overshadow the fact most venues remain closed.’
It is critical all restrictions are eased from 21 June, she said.
Emma McClarkin from the British Beer & Pub Association echoed that view: “These sales figures are very encouraging for our sector and show just how much we have all missed our pubs these last few months.
“Despite the positive news, it is imperative we remember that whilst they still have restrictions our pubs remain unviable and the many are still to open.
“Only when all our pubs can fully reopen as normal will they be viable businesses and in the green once more.’
Some 60 pubs in Scotland will also reopen on 26 April, which will make 533 including outlets in Wales and Northern Ireland out of a total estate of 871 sites.
Wetherspoon chief executive John Hutson said: “We look forward to welcoming our customers and staff back to our pubs.”
Pubs in England are set to be allowed to start trading indoors from 17 May.
Shares in JD Wetherspoon rose 2.2% to 1,352p.