COVID-19: Nearly half of adults have been out for a drink or meal since lockdowns eased – survey

Pubs and restaurants are enjoying a stronger reopening from lockdown than last summer’s false start while gym users are also getting back on the treadmill in big numbers, new figures suggest.

Sunny weather helped encourage 44% of adults in England to visit hospitality venues since they were allowed to reopen outdoors last week – better than the 35% who did so after restrictions were eased in July 2020.

The data from consultancy CGA came as the boss of pub chain Shepherd Neame said trade levels so far had beaten expectations.

Meanwhile, fitness chain PureGym revealed that users completed one million sessions in the first week after its 240 sites in England were allowed to reopen on 12 April – similar levels to the equivalent week in 2019.

The figures came as chief executive Humphrey Cobbold said 2020 was an "awful" year for the chain, as it slumped to a £215m annual loss and membership slid from 1.7 million at the end of 2019 to 1.4 million by the end of March this year.

Hospitality and leisure businesses are desperate to attract customers back after being closed for many months.

CGA’s survey on the hospitality sector, based on a representative sample of 750 adults, suggested that pubs, bars and restaurants had got off to a good start though more customers would have been persuaded to go if they had not been worried about having to book a table.

Those who did go out have done so an average 2.4 times in the first 10 days that lockdown has been eased, the poll found.

Separate analysis it has conducted suggests that sales for those venues that have reopened remained lower than pre-lockdown levels.

It echoes data from the retail sector, where sunny weather has helped footfall bounce back as non-essential stores reopened but numbers are still short of where they were in 2019.

But Jonathan Neame, chief executive of Kent-based brewer and pub chain Shepherd Neame, said drinkers had been returning in greater numbers than expected.

He said the company has reopened more than 200 of its pubs, around two thirds of its total.

"Many customers have returned to our pubs in the first week to enjoy great hospitality in a relaxed and safe environment," Mr Neame said.

"Although it is early days, trade levels so far have been above expectation."

The company said that it had swung to a £7.2m loss for the second half of 2020.

But Mr Neame predicted a strong recovery over the summer and autumn this year boosted by pent-up demand and consumers holidaying in the UK rather than overseas due to ongoing travel restrictions.

Elsewhere, pub chain Wetherspoons revealed more openings across England, Scotland and Wales which will mean 533 of its 871 premises are trading by the end of this month.

The company’s chairman Tim Martin has been an outspoken critic of what he calls the "mayhem" of lockdowns and tier restrictions.

Separately, figures from Dutch brewer Heineken on Wednesday emphasised how much the restrictions were continuing to take a toll well into 2021, with its UK sales volumes down by around 30% in the first quarter as pubs remained shut.

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