Businesses in the heart of Nottingham’s city centre restaurant quarter are taking on extra staff to deal with post-lockdown customers.
Dozens of eateries on Hockley started serving customers indoors this week (May 17), for the first time since January.
Notts TV counted 29 pubs, clubs, cafés and restaurants on Hockley that have reopened their doors after lockdown. Many say they are doing good trade.
“We’ve had to employ more staff and get more equipment,” said Christina Yordanova, manager of Hockley Kitchen.
“We’ve definitely had more customers than before lockdown, especially on the sunny days. Some days we’ve done more than double what we used to do.
“Previously, we would serve 200 people for the day, plus takeaways. Now it is up to 500 people, depending on our crazy weather.”
Hockley Kitchen first emerged from lockdown when it reopened with pavement tables outside the cafe, on April 12.
Other venues have not been so lucky. A handful of empty buildings nearby show where former cafes and restaurants have become casualties of the pandemic.
But Ms Yordanova revealed one of the empty buildings will become a new restaurant, called Hockley Mesa, which she is about to launch.
“We have the luck on our side,” she said. “Mesa will open just down the road from Hockley Kitchen.”
On Broad Street, the owner of the Kayal Indian restaurant Jacob Jumy will also be hiring more part-time staff.
“Our guests are coming back and hopefully we will get back to normal soon,” he said.
“Before, we could seat 100 people in the restaurant. Now this has been reduced due to safety measures. But we’re hiring new part-time staff.”
Some venues have already taken on staff, in anticipation of more customers. The owner of the Jamcafé bar Bradley Rice said: “Our team has tripled in size. There were just two of us – now we have seven.
“We may be hiring even more as we get to the summer. I imagine we will be full every day when the weather is nice.”
Mr Rice said he will delay opening inside until June.
He added: “With social distancing, we can only fit 25 people inside, but we can seat 100 people outside on a sunny day.”
On the other side of Hockley, Indian restaurant Mowgli – which has been serving outside for more than a month – is looking for a new chef to help deal with the indoor opening.
Staff member Drew Chantler said: “Hopefully, business will soon be back, better and stronger than ever.”
Customers eating and drinking inside pubs, cafés and restaurants must still follow coronavirus guidelines, including staying seated to order and providing contact details for track and trace.
But student Harry Hughes, 20, was just happy to be able to return to his favourite Hockley pub, JD Wetherspoon.
He said: “It’s been five months since I last sat inside a Wetherspoon’s. I can finally have an enjoyable drink without worrying about the weather!”
And fellow student Macey Freeman, 21, added: “Now we can actually go inside and hear everyone. It feels good to be able to hear people talk.”
Pubs and restaurants are now waiting anxiously, to find out if they can open fully – without social distancing – when lockdown rules are relaxed further, in June.
In the meantime, the leader of Nottingham City Council David Mellen has urged customers and traders not to be complacent.
“We’re all looking forward to getting back to enjoying more of what the city has to offer,” he said.
“But we can’t afford to be complacent and put the hard-fought freedoms or our health at risk.”