Restaurant bookings third higher than pre-pandemic levels after indoor rules eased

Restaurant bookings were a third higher than pre-pandemic levels in the week after indoor hospitality was allowed to return, according to new data.

The number of seated diners was 32% above the same week in 2019 according to figures provided to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) by booking website OpenTable.

The data, published by the ONS as part of a weekly series reflecting the economic impact of the pandemic, is the latest to add to hopes of life – and business – returning to normal.

It also showed the proportion of employees on furlough fell to 8% for the period from 3 May to 16 May, just before the latest lockdown easing on 17 May.

That figure, equivalent to 2.2 million workers, was the lowest since the start of the year.

The upturn in restaurant bookings for the week to 24 May compared with 2019 is the strongest since the end of last August when the Eat Out To Help Out scheme, which subsidised meals at restaurant and pubs, was taking place.

In the previous week – with outdoor but not indoor dining allowed – bookings had still been running at only about three quarters of pre-pandemic levels.

The ONS said: “This latest week’s substantial increase follows the reopening of indoor dining in England, Wales and Scotland on 17 May and continues the rise in seated diner estimates observed since the first reopening of pubs and restaurants in England on 12 April 2021.”

The figures also revealed regional disparities.

London and Manchester each saw big increases but, while in the capital restaurant reservations were still at only 84% of 2019 levels, Manchester’s bookings were 90% higher.

The ONS report also included footfall data compiled by Springboard showing shopping visits were still at only 71% of pre-pandemic levels in the week ending on 22 May.

Meanwhile, around a third of UK businesses experienced a decrease in turnover in early May compared to what is normally expected at the time of year.

That was the lowest proportion since the figures began to be compiled in June last year.

Britain’s economy shrank by nearly 10% last year as lockdowns took their toll and was in the doldrums again at the start of this year but is expected to bounce back with growth of more than 7% for 2021 as a whole as restrictions are eased.

Figures from the CBI published on Thursday showed consumer services firms from hotels to travel agents were hiring at the fastest pace since 2015 on hopes for a rebound.

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