The great outdoors: how alfresco dining has helped pubs battle back

Dining pod at the Chestnut Tree pub in Hellesdon

The Moralee family enjoying Sunday lunch in dining pod at the Chestnut Tree pub in Hellesdon. - 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.

Dining pods at the Chestnut Tree pub in Hellesdon.

Dining pods have proved a hit at the Chestnut Tree pub in Hellesdon. - Credit: Victoria Pertusa

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. 

Alan Archer, general manager of the Chestnut Tree in Hellesdon.

Alan Archer, general manager of the Chestnut Tree in Hellesdon. - Credit: Victoria Pertusa

“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.”

Extra outdoor facilities at the Chestnut Tree pub in Hellesdon

Extra outdoor facilities have helped the Chestnut Tree pub in Hellesdon bounce back. - Credit: Victoria Pertusa

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 Lion at Thurne

The dining greenhouses at The Lion at Thurne provided a new, exclusive experience for people looking for a private dining space during the pandemic. - Credit: The Lion at Thurne

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.

The Duke of Cambridge talks to the landlords and workers at The Rose and Crown pub in Snettisham.

The Duke of Cambridge talks to the landlords and workers at The Rose and Crown pub in Snettisham. - Credit: PA

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.

Frank's Bar in Norwich has added additional seating along Bedford Street.

Frank's Bar in Norwich has added additional seating along Bedford Street. - Credit: Simon Parkin

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 executive of industry group UK Hospitality.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of industry group UK Hospitality. - Credit: UK Hospitality

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 pub in Letheringsett 

The Kings Head pub in Letheringsett - Credit: The Kings Head

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.

Jessie Petrie, general manager of the Kings Head at Letheringsett,

Jessie Petrie, general manager of the Kings Head at Letheringsett.  - Credit: Supplied by Pam Farrell

“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.”

The pub garden at the King's Head in Letheringsett was popular on April 12, the first day of opening for months. 

The King's Head in Letheringsett has added a barbecue 'shack' and bar to its garden.  - Credit: Stuart Anderson


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