Concerns over using public transport, coupled with the poor weather, meant that those wishing to take advantage of the reopening of bars and restaurants at the weekend stayed away from city centres on the whole, favouring local establishments instead, commentators said.
Bars and restaurants that chose to reopen on Saturday for the first time since March put into place a series of measures to do so safely, including outdoor seating, cashless pay stations and the use of plastic visors.
Altrincham Market trialled its newly developed app, allowing customers to order from their tables. Jake Ogden, a board member of networking group Manchester Hospitality Network, was at the market on Sunday.
“It was all very slick and smooth,” he said. “It was a good system in terms of seat allocation and there was plenty of distance between everyone. It was just nice to go out and have some food and drink and to see other people.”
Ogden said he had heard that other areas of Manchester, outside the city centre, including Chorlton and Didsbury, had also been busy but that the city centre “wasn’t anywhere near the levels that it normally would be”.
“I don’t think there was much walking trade in the city centre. People aren’t comfortable using public transport so if they can eat or drink on their doorstep, they will be more inclined to do that than go into town.”
Ogden said it could be a while before city centre trade picks up, due to the lack of large events and the diminished number of office workers.
What is more, the next few weeks may be a “honeymoon period” and the levels of footfall seen yesterday could drop in August, he added.
“There will be people who went out this weekend who won’t go out every week. So many businesses rely on walking trade rather than bookings and that is going to be slower to build up because there is not as much appetite for people to go out on a whim.”
Photographs taken in Manchester’s Northern Quarter on Saturday showed customers visiting the recently pedestrianised Stevenson Square and Thomas Street, where bars and restaurants set up areas of outdoor seating to allow people to socially distance more easily.
Similarly, on Bold Street in Liverpool, ‘parklets’ – wooden structures providing outdoor seating for bars and restaurants – were set up on Friday in anticipation of reopening.
The parklets are being provided by the council as part of its Liverpool Without Walls initiative which has also seen Castle Street pedestrianised while Maray, a restaurant on Albert Dock, showcased its outdoor dining pods for the first time.
Liverpool’s deputy mayor Wendy Simon said the first day of reopening had gone well. “Saturday was as we expected under the current climate. The feedback was all really good and the city centre worked well.
She added: “It is going to be a phased return as some people don’t feel safe at the moment or are shielding so they are not going out as they ordinarily would do.”
For councils across the region, the reopening of hospitality has been a balancing act between boosting the economy and supporting struggling businesses, while also making sure customers are kept safe.
Simon added: “From day one of the social distancing measures, we were looking at how our recovery plan would look. Clearly, tourism and hospitality are a large part of our economic growth in the city so we wanted to support those businesses and make the experience as safe as possible for those visiting.”