People across England are rushing to make the most of coronavirus restrictions easing this week, with newly published official figures showing a surge in restaurant reservations and road traffic.
As pubs, cafes and restaurants in England reopened for outdoor dining and drinking on Monday, many people had booked in advance, so as not miss out on the chance to see friends and family over a meal again – despite the cold temperatures and snowy weather in parts of the country.
Reservations for a meal out on Monday jumped to 79% of the level recorded on the equivalent Monday in 2019, a year before the coronavirus pandemic struck, the Office for National Statistics said, using figures from OpenTable.
This is the first time seated diner reservations have exceeded 2% of 2019’s level since the latest lockdown was announced in January. In London and Manchester, bookings jumped to 47% and 153% of 2019 levels, respectively.
Venues were only allowed to serve people outdoors, limiting the number of possible bookings. Under the government’s four-step plan out of lockdown, all hospitality venues should be able to reopen indoors from 17 May.
Separate industry data published earlier this week showed that pubs and restaurants in England that opened on Monday sold more than twice as many drinks as they did on the same day in 2019, and one pub boss said it was similar to Christmas trading.
As non-essential shops, hairdressers, gyms, theme parks, zoos and campsites also opened again from Monday, many more people hit the road. The number of cars on the streets on Monday was at 91% of the level since in the first week of February 2020, the highest level since November, according to figures from the Department for Transport.
Data from searches of online grocery retailer Ocado’s website released on Thursday suggests that demand for snacks, canapés and alcoholic drinks associated with alfresco socialising in gardens and public spaces has also grown markedly in the past month as England’s lockdown began to ease.
Searches for Pimms are up 337% and for Aperol by 142% on Ocado.com. Other heavily searched categories include canapés, which have risen by 142%, snacks by 96%, and burgers 53%. M&S cocktail blinis and its tiger prawn and dim sum selection are among the most searched-for items.
Ocado also reported a surge in demand for stir-frys, fresh pasta, soups, ready meals, microwaveable rice and breakfast bars as people prepare to go back to their place of work and shop for easy-to-prepare lunch time and after work meals.
Hospitality firms and retailers have been taking on more staff before reopening, pushing online job vacancies to their highest level in more than a year.
UK online job adverts on 9 April were the highest since early March 2020, and equalled the average level recorded in February last year, the ONS said, using data from the online job search engine Adzuna. This was partly driven by a notable increase in the catering and hospitality category, which also reached its highest level since March 2020.
London’s financial services firms also started hiring again in the first three months of the year, with 70% more jobs available than in the previous quarter, and 50% more than in March 2020, according to recruitment firm Morgan McKinley.
Hakan Enver, Morgan McKinley’s UK managing director, said: “Financial services has had a strong start to 2021. As the vaccine rollout continues apace and the road out of lockdown clears, we are seeing the sector recover at a faster rate than anticipated. We expect this recovery and confidence to continue as the country unlocks and normal working life resumes.”