We’re back! Drinkers and shoppers stage return to the West End as sun shines

Jonathan Prynn
·2-min read
<p>Numbers were even higher than  the first “freedom weekend”</p> (Lucy Young)

Numbers were even higher than the first “freedom weekend”

(Lucy Young)

Drinkers and diners flocked to the West End over the weekend in even higher numbers than previously, allaying fears that the post-lockdown rush back to restaurants and bars could fizzle out.

The latest figures came as the NHS said people aged 44 will be invited to book their Covid-19 vaccine from today. Two-thirds of the previous age group — 45 to 49-year-olds — have received their first dose.

Des Gunewardena, chief executive of fine dining group D&D London, said revenue from Friday evening to Sunday was up about 10 per cent on the first “freedom weekend” although that figure was boosted by the opening of an extra terrace at the Madison roof-top bar in the City.

He said: “The weekend was really big, bigger than last weekend, and bookings continue to be strong. Hopefully we will get three more weeks of this then we can start doing indoors and open more restaurants. The signs are good that there is momentum.

“It is very very different to coming out of lockdown last July when everybody was talking about PPE and social distancing and what to expect when going out. This time everyone has had a year of Covid, the vaccination programme is going well, and they feel pretty safe in restaurants.”

Simon Thomas, chief executive of the Hippodrome Casino in Leicester Square, said: “It was a record weekend. All three floors of our outdoor terrace were full, with people making the most of the glorious weather. Our customers were mainly Londoners but some from further afield, which heralds a shift in confidence that we’re delighted to see.”

On Saturday there were about 57 per cent of the normal number of shoppers in Oxford Street, Regent Street, Bond Street and Mayfair for the time of year, slightly down on the previous week.

However, Jace Tyrrell, chief executive of business group New West End Company said: “With the continuation of the warm weather heading into the weekend, we were delighted to see Londoners heading back to the West End. We’re encouraged by the sustained levels of footfall that we’ve seen in the district, already tracking well ahead of the first reopening in June 2020.”

Rachael Robathan, leader of Westminster council, said: “We have seen numbers of visitors steadily rising and we have issued just over 730 pavement licences for al fresco dining.”

About half a million 44-year-olds will receive a text inviting them to get their jab through the national booking service, NHS England said.

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