It will be “a long road to recovery” for hospitality businesses as many are still making a loss even if they have reopened under the more relaxed coronavirus restrictions, an industry leader has said.
There is a “cautious optimism” among firms who have now worked their first Friday night since venues were able to resume trading indoors in England, according to UK Hospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls.
But she warned that after many businesses did not survive the shutdown, customers should expect the look of the high street to change.
Ms Nicholls told BBC Breakfast: “The first week has not been as exceptional as we had when we first opened outdoors and there was that rush to come back.
“We are looking at what the numbers will look like this weekend – that will be critical.”
Pubs, restaurants and cafes are now able to serve customers indoors but they have to abide by a range of restrictions which includes groups of no more than six – or two households of any size – being allowed inside and people having to order, eat and drink while seated in venues where alcohol is served.
Ms Nicholls told the programme: “There has been a contraction of one in 10 restaurants across the UK but in our high streets it is as high as one in five, so our high streets are going to look very different – that’s overall including pubs, bars, restaurants and hotels, and the contraction has been right across the board in those areas.
“All of our businesses are suffering and sadly we have lost 660,000 members of staff.
“Furlough and business support has kept those numbers as low as we can but there is a big risk as we come out of this pandemic as these businesses are going to be very heavily in debt.
“They are much more indebted than any other sector of the economy. In particular, they have got high levels of rent debt so the shadow of Covid is going to hang over these businesses for about six months before we know that we can get them through.”
The Government hopes to lift all restrictions from June 21.
Ms Nicholls suggested that the amount of business and premises losses, particularly among independent firms, could escalate further if the Government’s road map is changed and as business support tapers off in the summer.
Under current rules, groups seated outside may have up to 30 people and customers must wear face coverings when not seated, which includes when they are being shown to a table or going to the toilet.
Social distancing between groups is also encouraged.