As the hospitality sector moves to a crucial phase of the reopening roadmap today, with indoor service resuming, a look back at April’s activity reveals that trading proved to be a tale of two halves.

Venues started to return from Monday 12 April to a very warm welcome from consumers, and sunny weather made for a strong first fortnight of sales - especially in drinks. However, with rain moving in as we entered May, footfall and sales dipped in line with the temperatures. Trading predominantly outside would always be vulnerable to the great British spring weather, and so it proved.

Our latest Market Recovery Monitor reports that just under a third (32.9%) of licensed premises in Britain welcomed guests back in April – just over 35,000 venues. The five weeks of outside service has been a beneficial springboard for sales and numbers were boosted by the moves of some local authorities to allow operators to add tables to pavements and pedestrianise roads - enabling some venues that did not previously have a designated outdoor space to accommodate guests.

By segment, food pubs led the way across Britain, with 49.0% trading in April, followed by bar restaurants (39.1%), community pubs (38.7%) and high street pubs (36%). By contrast, restaurant activity lagged behind at just 16.6%, given the greater likelihood of an absence of outdoor trading options.

Our data suggests a positive return to trading for the sector, though there were marked differences in re-openings between managed and independent sites, where just 24% of Britain’s independent premises traded during this first phase of reopening, compared with 52.4% for managed sites. Many independents will have decided that the combination of operating costs versus the vagaries of the weather made reopening too risky, holding on instead for the return of indoor service. The make-up of managed site portfolios may also have benefited more from the outdoor spaces they had available.

The progression to indoor reopening marks an important moment for hospitality and some welcome light at the end of what’s been a long, dark tunnel. Profitability in the sector remains a concern, however, and there is a bumpy road to recovery ahead. While some operators’ creative use of outdoor space served them relatively well over the past month, the large majority were unable to welcome back any guests or chose to remain closed. For those that did reopen, trading was beholden to the weather and many struggled to break even.

The big test will be to see how many sites open their doors from Monday 17 May, as we expect all those who will reopen to do so on that date, other than some city centre sites reliant on office workers. This may provide the best indication as to the level of permanent closures caused by the lockdown restrictions.