The great outdoors: how alfresco dining has helped pubs battle back
- Credit: Victoria Pertusa
Pubs and restaurants have seen a boom in returning customers after a move to take advantage of alfresco dining and drinking.
Faced with coronavirus closures restrictions and lockdown restrictions that meant they could only serve outdoors, many hospitality businesses looked to take advantage of the great outdoors.
And despite unseasonal summer weather investment in everything from intimate indoor dining venues and marquees to beach shacks and outdoor bar areas has paid off with many saying they have bounced back.
The Chestnut Tree in Hellesdon, which has invested thousands in new bubble-style pods, dining cabins, gazebo and marquee as part of a complete refurbishment of its garden, has seen more customers than before the pandemic.
Assistant manager Chris Stone said he believed the additions will provide a long-lasting benefit for the business.
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“We have put a lot of money, heart and soul into getting the garden ready and since we’ve come out of lockdown it has been chockablock,” he said.
“People seem to like what we’ve done and it’s really helped us to not suffer too much despite the lockdowns.
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“After the first lockdown we brought the dining pods as a measure for customers to be able to eat while complying with the rules but also to do something different. They proved to be very popular, so after the latest lockdown we put cabins in. It’s an idea that we thought might go quite well.
“They can fit up to eight people and we’ve had some parties where they’ve booked out two or three of them at a time.”
Outdoor dining and socialising is something we have previously more associated with the cities, towns and resorts of mainland Europe.
But the pandemic has forced businesses to look at ways of thinking outside of their four walls and offering an outdoor experience.
Popular Broads pub the Thurne Lion has installed three exclusive dining greenhouses as part of a revamp of its outdoor grounds.
The Rose & Crown pub in Snettisham added a 'beach hut' bar and a new heated double marquee are part of its outdoor facilities.
The Duke of Cambridge paid a visit after lockdown to learn how the pub had adapted during the pandemic.
In Norwich the Junkyard Market ticketed street food festival, which was launched during the pandemic, has proved a hit. Chantry Place has also doubled outdoor seating.
Prior to the April 12 reopening, Norwich City Council also granted 40 extra pavement licences, which are due to run until September 2022.
In addition 36 hospitality businesses in the city centre now had licences to put tables and chairs on public highways - on top of those with their own gardens or outdoor spaces.
Among those to take advantage have been Frank’s Bar, which has spread outdoor tables along Bedford Street and The Vine pub and Thai restaurant on Dove Street.
The council fast-track applications and facilitated the closures of roads such as St Benedicts Street and Exchange Street to free up more space for pavement seating.
Ella Williams, co-owner of Frank’s Bar, said they had lost half their indoor capacity during the restrictions, so being able to go outside had made “a huge difference.”
“It’s about making the city centre a better place, more welcoming and the positive impact on their business,” she said. “It also has a bit more of a European cafe feel.”
And al fresco dining to become a high Street fixture with pavement dining and outdoor pint licences are set to continue for another year, the government has said as part of a plan to get hospitality back on its feet.
Kate Nicholls, chief of industry group UK Hospitality, said: "The extension - and potential permanent retention - of streamlined pavement licensing is a real boost for pubs, cafes and restaurants, who will be delighted that they can continue to make use of outdoor areas, helping them to navigate their way more speedily back to profitability.”
‘Covid has made us make the most of our beautiful garden’
Covid restrictions have hit hospitality businesses like pubs hard, but it has also made many look for salvation in their own back gardens, literally.
The Kings Head at Letheringsett, just outside Holt, boasts a beautiful garden surrounded by parkland and the pandemic has seen them make the most of it.
General manager Jessie Petrie said: “We have a new barbecue ‘shack’ and outside bar and 40 tables and a marquee so we have really been able to make the most of our garden more than we ever have before.
“We will definitely be continuing with it next summer too.
“We have just had a gin festival and on August 20 we have got a theatre company coming to do Treasure Island, the first time we have done something like that.
“Expanding outdoors has actually helped to improve what we are able to offer to customers.”