The sun is now shining on the first day outdoor pubs and restaurants in England welcome customers back to enjoy cold pints and fresh food.
It may still be a bit chilly, with some areas experiencing unexpected snow showers, but the fluctuating weather hasn’t wiped the smiles off the faces of some of the country’s pub owners who are ecstatic to have reopened after months of lockdown.
Chris Driver, owner of The Derry in Stockton-on-Tees, told NationalWorld he was “over the moon” to be back in business.
“It’s such a weight off my mind, it’s fantastic. The team is happy to be back again. We’re the hub of the community so it’s great to see people enjoying themselves,” he said.
“It’s great having beer pulled from the taps, fresh pints not from tins or bottles and food taken to the table - and the sun’s shining here as well which makes it even better.”
Driver, whose pub has been operating in the heart of Long Newton for five years, said he “couldn’t ask for any more” when it came to reopening the venue.
And the pub’s bookings reflect just how desperate people are for a taste of normality, with 418 customers pencilled in just for the first day back.
“It’s a lot of people but we’ve got a good outside area - we won best beer garden in the country in 2019. So we’re pretty much prepared for outside dining.”
But some places could not have planned for the snow that hit just as they were reopening this morning.
“We were putting cushions out on the terrace for nearly 100 breakfast bookings at 9am - and then it started to snow,” Tim Foster, head of the Yummy Pub Co and owner of countryside spot The Wiremill in East Grinstead, said.
But the adverse weather made reopening “even more fun”, he told NationalWorld, and the sun finally came out in time for the hundreds of customers who had booked the venue’s outside area, which was developed during lockdown last year.
“It’s all been great today and the customers have been amazing,” he said.
“You can tell people have been wanting a taste of normality, and you almost can’t get away from tables as people just want to talk!”
The reopening was emotional at times for Foster, as he watched people meet up for the first time in months.
“There was one lady who met her support bubble and they hugged and both burst into tears.”
Witnessing people’s interactions was also the most rewarding part of the day for Driver.
“Everyone’s got smiles on their faces, from the staff to the customers. It feels like we’re getting back to normal.”
‘We nailed it today’
But despite his elation, Driver had his fears about ensuring all the necessary Covid safety measures were in place before The Derry opened its doors.
“I was nervous about whether the team was prepared, if I’d done everything right and if all the safety procedures were in place - that was probably my biggest anxiety. But I feel like we’ve nailed it today,” he said.
Staff had to attend a full training weekend before the reopening to make sure everyone knew what they were doing.
The pub also has a one-way toilet system in place, and customers are asked to order drinks and food via a QR code on tables.
Despite the rules, Driver said people are happy to adhere to them “because of what has happened with the pandemic”.
He said: “The feedback so far has been great. No one actually has to get up from the table and go and get a drink!”
Driver himself is excited to be back “doing what I do best”.
“Speaking to people again, interacting, it’s been fantastic just talking to people I’ve not seen in such a long time.”
‘A long time coming’
Meanwhile, Michael Clitheroe, general manager of the Balmer Lawn Hotel, Brockenhurst, called the 12 April reopening date “a long time coming”.
The hotel is opening its beach-themed The Lodge Kitchen & Bar to over 200 diners on Monday.
“Opening the doors was an exciting moment for the whole team,” Clitheroe said.
“It has been fantastic to see families and small groups of friends socialising again for the first time and enjoying our new beach-themed venue.”
The popular spot is going one step further to celebrate its return, with every guest given a glass of fizz on arrival.
And in Witney, Oxfordshire, Luke Champion, co-owner of gastropubs The Hollybush and The Horseshoes, called it a “pleasure” to reopen and welcome loyal customers back.
He said: “I think everyone is desperate for some normality, and by now everyone knows the rules so we’ve had no problems with people sticking to them.”
Champion is looking ahead to the reopening of indoor hospitality venues on 17 May, under Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown, so the pubs can operate at their full capacity.
“We are really excited to get going indoors over the next month or so, as we are still not at maximum capacity as can only serve in our garden so for us it's a bit of a walk in the park - or garden.”