A week ago, many hospitality venues in England threw open their doors after months of closure due to coronavirus restrictions. However, they were allowed to operate outdoors only, posing challenges for many venues and preventing the reopening plans of others altogether.

Four hospitality venue owners shared their experience of last week.

‘It’s like a dam has burst and we’re trying to manage the impact’

“The past few weeks have been intense,” said Steve Ryan, who runs the brewery and taproom 40FT in Newington Green in London.

40FT taproom in Newington Green.
40FT taproom in Newington Green, London. Photograph: Steve Ryan/Guardian Community

“We started brewing at the start of March to have fresh beer for everyone. Taking people off furlough and rolling the dice again with what small funds we have left is very unnerving. We were stung badly when Boris promised the nation Christmas and we brewed for that and were left out to dry,” he said.

Ryan’s business reported sales down 96% in January and February, and while it has taken innovative approaches to continue working during lockdown, such as introducing home deliveries, it has not compensated for having to stay closed or the lack of orders from other pubs.

“We were coming up with new ideas every week, but by the third lockdown everyone had caught up,” he said. “There were no more rabbits to pull out of hats, and dry January didn’t help either. So the last roll of the dice was this reopening.”

So far, it’s paid off. Crowds were lining up along the road on Saturday, and the taproom was welcoming about 300 people each day.

“It’s a very emotional time for the whole team. We are relieved to be back in business but it’s not a normal week. It’s like a dam has burst and we’re trying to manage the impact,” he said. “It’s been overwhelming but my team and I are running on adrenaline. It was a surreal moment to be sharing our space again but it gave me hope.”

‘A regular told me how much our pub reopening brought the community back together’

In Oxford, Justine Rosser, the owner of the Anchor pub, has also had a good week. “We’ve never been so busy, it’s blown us away,” she said. The pub welcomed more than 2,000 people in its first seven days, after converting its car park into a large garden to allow it to reopen this week.

The Anchor pub in Oxford this week.
The Anchor pub in Oxford this week. Photograph: Justine Rosser/Guardian Community

“The atmosphere has been just amazing,. People seem so pleased finally to be able to meet up and have fun again and celebrate things moving back towards normality, hopefully.”

Rosser said she had been amazed by the support from the local community to help the Anchor survive the pandemic, with locals pledging bar tabs they could redeem once it reopened its doors.

The Anchor pub car park before its transformation for this week’s reopening
The Anchor pub car park before its transformation for this week’s reopening. Photograph: Justine Rosser/Guardian Community

“We had so many nice messages and people popping in and telling us how much [the pub] meant to them,” she said. “The most memorable moment [this week] was when a regular told me how much our pub reopening brought the community back together. She lives across the road and said, while we were closed through lockdown, she would look out of her window and see our fairy lights still twinkling ‘like a little bit of hope’.”

‘We’ve had this survivor syndrome’

At the Flying Horse in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, a “mega marquee” capable of holding 350 people was installed in front of the pub in time for Monday’s reopening.

Tom McNeeney, who works for Lancashire Hospitality Company, which owns the pub, said the week had been positive and uplifting – if tiring.

About 1,400 people turned up on Monday, alongside a number of staff members who had been furloughed. “Everyone was clocking about 30,000 steps a day,” he said. “We’re burning off our lockdown weight.

“A lot of our staff were so happy to come back, and it’s infectious. We couldn’t settle on a uniform so we have an army of lovely people swanning around Rochdale in Hawaiian shirts, serving people pints. Everyone is carrying a bit of positivity with them, and that’s a huge thing.”

The Flying Horse’s ‘mega marquee’ in Rochdale
The Flying Horse’s ‘mega marquee’ in Rochdale. Photograph: Tom McNeeney/Guardian Community

While McNeeney said that “some lairy-ness” from customers was inevitable – “nobody’s had a drink out for five months!” – it had been “really enjoyable”. Given the success of the reopening, the firm is considering offering the outdoor space to other businesses that have been unable to open.

“We’ve had this almost survivor syndrome. There are incredible operators who just cannot open because of staffing or space,” McNeeney said. “It’s awful.”

‘We’re just waiting, desperate to reopen’

One of those unable to open is Peter Ravenscroft, who owns the Beach & Barnicott restaurant and bar in Bridport, Dorset, which does not have any outside space.

“We’re just waiting, desperate to reopen,” he said. “Last week it was really weird seeing the furore about it being the reopening, and it is, but only for some places. I felt like I was waiting for a big reopening for so long, and it felt like I was missing out. It was so frustrating.”

When the venue was forced to close during the first lockdown, Ravenscroft wondered if it would ever be able to reopen. They benefited from the government’s bounce-back loan, but that money is now gone, and the doors remain closed.

The Beach & Barnicott in Bridport does not have outdoor space so has not been able to reopen
The Beach & Barnicott in Bridport does not have outdoor space so has not been able to reopen. Photograph: Peter Ravenscroft/Guardian Community

“Now, the bank balance is slowly diminishing, but you can’t stop paying all the bills,” he said. “We’re pretty sure we’re OK unless nothing disastrous happens in the next few weeks … but it is worrying. [After the indoor reopening on 17 May] we’ll go into summer, which will hopefully be busy, but with a load of debt we didn’t plan on having. It’s a lot of new worries for a small business.”

This content first appear on the guardian

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