It is the biggest date yet in the roadmap out of lockdown.
Monday 12th April is the day of al-fresco reopening of hospitality in England, and it is one pub and restaurant owners and their teams around London have been cautiously but determinedly working to for months.
Despite the artic climate, demand for outdoor drinking and dining is huge. Venues are reporting being fully booked for months, while restaurant booking platform The Fork saw a 57% increase in bookings week-on-week in the lead up, with London venues alone accounting for 44% of the bookings.
The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) has revealed that pub operators have invested more than £285 million in supporting publicans get their gardens ready, helping pay for marquees, tepees, outdoor heaters and outdoor beer pumps and fridges.
Many London destinations have spent much-needed cash expanding or preparing new, exciting and comfortable outdoor seating and experiences in the hope of enticing customers to stay for that extra drink, and help edge up revenues curtailed by the limits of outdoor-only service.
Here we take a look at a few of the creative and unusual things operators have done to maximise their available outdoor space, and (hopefully) their revenues, this time around...
Until now, customers would not have gone into the back yard of the 50-cover seasonal-focused Peckham destination, Kudu, because it was the bins area.
But it is now a newly-painted little "secret garden" - and the owners plan to keep it in place permanently.
Kudu is run by co-owners and couple Amy Corbin - daughter of Corbin & King's Chris Corbin - and head chef Patrick Williams, who met through their love of food.
Corbin said: "We’ve rainproofed the whole area and made it into a bit of a secret garden - you can even book now."
The team also created a terrace at the front of the restaurant, and for the Kudu Collective's cocktail bar. The restaurant terrace alone will give an additional 25-30 covers per seating.
"We even had one amazing regular who offered to put together some plants and planters for us to break it all up and windproof things a bit - she’s a gardener," Corbin said. "It will hopefully double our revenue and capacity so we’re actually hoping to keep it as a permanent fixture, since before lockdown we had to turn people away at our busiest times."
The Outdoor Space Negotiation
Daffodil Mulligan, Old Street
An award-winning restaurant from Richard Corrigan, Daffodil Mulligan never previously had any outdoor space.
But the team got to work, and managed to secure a courtyard behind the venue. They set about building themselves a terrace and completed it just in time for opening this week, with the space for 28 diners at any one time.
Corrigan Collection operations manager, Richie Corrigan, said: “When we heard restaurants would be allowed to open on April 12th, but outside only, I knew we had to make sure Daffodil Mulligan was part of it.
"[We've] filled it with chairs and tables from the restaurant and create a real outdoor community... All that’s missing is being able to watch the wood-fired oven in action."
The New Outdoor Concept Launch
Native at Browns Courtyard, Mayfair
British food-focused Native was set to officially open this spring. They were initially going to wait until May 17 - the date currently outlined in the roadmap for the reopening of indoor dining - but they decided to try to open earlier by transforming the Browns outdoor space.
They were lucky. The courtyard is larger than most Mayfair restaurants' pavement spaces, and the team have filled the venue's courtyard with foliage, plants and nestled tables in a bid to give fans a taste of the new venue ahead of the official launch.
They have created a garden snacks menu, and with 40 diners able to fit into the courtyard at once.
Campfire, King’s Cross
Independent brewery, Two Tribes, is launching a whole new open-air terrace restaurant to coincide with the al-fresco reopening. Campfire, which will have firepit cooking and live DJ sets, will launch on April 17 featuring a residency from Hackney’s rising barbecue specialists From The Ashes, a lockdown-born project that’s already built a cult following for its nduja-stuffed “Del Piero”doughnuts.
Smoking Goat, Shoreditch
Fire-cooking destination, Smoking Goat, has expanded a covered terrace outside its busy Redchurch Street location to 60 seats.
The terrace is set to centre around open barbecues, serving up spicy seafood and comfort dishes to warm diners.
The ‘Wow’ Factor
Some of those restaurants already blessed with - and known for - their outdoor space decided to go the extra mile.
Bluebird Chelsea partnered up with Taittinger an planned “an epic champagne tower” to mark the big April 12.
Des Gunewardena, chief executive of fine dining group D&D London, which is behind the venue, has told the Standard group bookings over the next three weeks were more than double the level of the same period in 2019 — despite having only a third of the capacity of the pre-Covid era — and more than triple the “Super Saturday” reopening of last July.
He said: “Basically we are packed to the rafters everywhere.”
If you’re a restaurant or pub owner with a great transformation story for this week’s reopening, let us know! Tweet @nomiackerman