Pubs and restaurants reported brisk trade last night and a steady flow of happy customers as Leicester city centre entered its first weekend under eased lockdown restrictions.
Pints are flowing and venues are operating again – but only those which are fortunate to have sufficient outdoor space, whether it is a traditional beer garden, a hastily adapted car park or a stretch of pavement.
The new conditions came into effect on Monday and businesses say they have been steadily busy throughout the week, leading up to last night.
But Friday was the biggest day since pubs and restaurants had been able to operate for a time but closed again approximately six months ago.
Ollie Worley, assistant manager at the Tree, in High Street, said: “It’s so nice to have everyone back, we’ve all been stuck inside for such a long time.
“The High Street bars are busy because we have the outside areas other places don’t and the atmosphere generally has been really good tonight.
“It’s been quite a while since the pubs were last open, in October, so people were raring to go.”
Rebecca Nicholson, 35, from Clarendon Park and friends were together for the first time in months, a year for some of them.
“A few of us booked a place for a meal and then we headed out for a drink. It was perfect. There was a really good atmosphere in the city centre.
“I saw one or two lads misbehaving, probably because they’d started drinking early, but on the whole the vast majority of people I saw just wanted to spend time with family and friends and have a good meal or a drink together.
“The queues were pretty long at some places but we got in somewhere and had a plenty of time together and forgot about the restrictions.”
Richard O’Neill, 37 and from Aylestone, was enjoying a pint with pals for the first time in almost six months.
He said: “Everyone, and I mean everyone, has had a very hard year and it feels so good to be with friends again – and to be out of the house.
“I’ve been working from home, so all the days have kinds of merged.
“Getting ready to come out tonight was a real event and I was actually kind of giddy, like a big kid, at the idea of being out again.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect this evening, but I’d say most people took it easy and had a good night out.”
Another person out for the first time in months, added: “It’s so nice to be out having food and drink and be surrounded by people again. The atmosphere has been really happy everywhere.
“There were one or two places were the queues were too long to wait, but that wasn’t a problem, we just went elsewhere.
“I’ve realised how much I’ve missed this.”
Police had earlier said they would be keeping an eye on proceedings and officers maintained a low-key presence throughout the evening. The force has not reported any significant problems overnight.
Despite the new freedoms which came into effect on Monday, there are some restrictions in place.
The rules on social distancing mean that people can only go out together in groups of six or two households. Support bubbles count as a single household.
There is no longer a need for customers to order a ‘substantial meal’ with alcohol and there is no 10pm curfew.
However, customers must order, eat and drink while seated. You’ll be able to walk through a pub to get to its outdoor space if it’s at the back, and can go inside to use the toilet.
Some pubs will require you to book online ahead of a visit, while others are operating a first come, first served policy.
Pubs which do not have outside space have been allowed to re-open to offer takeaway services.
They will be able to re-open fully when customers are allowed back inside. This is scheduled to happen no earlier than Monday, May 17.