Many fish and chip restaurants have reported a positive first week trading since indoor hospitality reopened on Monday 17th May, with some saying it's the closest the industry has felt to 'normal' since the start of the pandemic.
Others, meanwhile, have experienced a flat week with footfall slow and takeaway sales down. However, the general feeling is that this was to be expected and is only temporary, with trade predicted to pick up as the weather improves and the holidays kick in.
George Papadamou, owner of Papa’s Fish & Chips, says he has been pleasantly surprised to see his six restaurants quickly filling up to their current capacities. He comments: “With nothing like the Eat Out To Help Out scheme to incentivise people to eat out this time around, we were unsure how it was going to go. But that said, customers in our area, in our core demographic, most have had their vaccinations and have a renewed sense of positivity and we’ve been one of their first stops, which is fantastic.
“Obviously, fish and chips were something that was available all throughout lockdown and we weren’t sure if, once we reopened the doors, customers would go for something that they hadn’t been able to enjoy, like a steak, but no, demand for fish and chips is still there.”
With over 300 staff across the six Papa’s sites, the return of indoor hospitality has meant more team members back working too. George adds: “We have a massive team and we’ve been operating just the takeaway side for so long so the staff have been itching to get out of their livings rooms and back to work so it’s been really welcomed amongst the team as well as the customers. It’s definitely been the most normal it’s felt during the last year.”
It’s a similar picture over 300 miles away at Fish 'n' Fritz in Weymouth, Dorset, where owner Paul Hays reports a 'good' trade, despite operating just four tables compared to the usual 11.
With business boosted by its seaside location, Paul adds: “The town has been really busy, there are lots of new faces and the takeaway and the restaurant are both really busy. And the news we’re getting is that all the holiday lets and homes around here are full until November - so all the signs are that this is the start of what we’re hoping will be a record-breaking year.
"It’s great to feel a sense of ‘normality and an absolute pleasure to do what we love here at Fish 'n' Fritz."
For some restaurants, customers haven’t been as quick to return, although shop owners are remaining optimistic.
Richard Ord Snr, owner of Colmans in Ocean Road, South Shields, said trade was slow the first week but that he was expecting that to be the case. He comments: “We saw exactly the same pattern when we reopened last time, so we knew it would be a slow start. But trade is picking up every day and we expect things to get back to normal levels very soon.
“We’re getting a lot of calls from customers to check if we are open, I think people have got to get used to us being open again, which takes time. Maybe there’s a slight lack of confidence in coming out but that will return, we certainly saw that happen last time. And the weather this week has been against us up here, we’ve had rain in Biblical proportions, so that really hasn’t helped our trade either. But it’s half term next week and the weather is looking brighter so we’re expecting a busy week then. People do want to get back to normality and the feedback from the customers has been fantastic, they have been delighted to get out.”
It’s a different picture over at Ocean Road’s sister restaurant, Colmans Seafood Temple, which is fully booked for the next five weekends. “The Temple is trading at really high levels, it’s hit the ground running as people are enjoying the opportunity of a treat again,” adds Richard.
Located on the seafront in Felixstowe, Suffolk, Saltwater has had a mixed first week with the weather keeping some people at home, while the arcades next door reopening at the same time have helped retain those that have ventured out for longer.
Operating at a third of its true capacity, owner Faith Manning says the restaurant is still trading at a profit, adding: "We've had some days where we've been quiet and other days where we've had the restaurant half full but overall I've actually been surprised this week. It could be better, don't get me wrong, but people definitely seem like they want to come out to eat in.
"As a first week I'm not complaining, and it's actually been quite good as I have all new staff so it's a nice slow step into it for us all. I'm really hopeful for the bank holiday and half term next week."
At The Cod's Scallops in Nottingham, owner John Molnar reported a "flat week" with profits down. He comments: "I wasn't sat there expecting us to have an amazing week but I did think we'd be slightly busier, but I get why people aren't coming out yet still. Our clientele at lunchtime is the blue-rinse brigade and there's an element of them that are going to wait another four weeks because it will be masks off and back to normality.
"Trade grew towards the end of the week, but we're nowhere near as busy as we were pre-lockdown. The takeaway is sightly down, so overall takings are more or less the same but obviously our staff costs are a lot higher so, in theory, our profits are down because the staff wages are higher. I think it will be similar this week, it might spike for half term - I hope - leading into National Fish & Chip Day, so I'm confident that week will be good."
Emir Hikary, owner of Hiks in Brynhyfryd, Swansea, says demand for tables inside his restaurant, which is operating at a reduced capacity of 16 seats - down from 42 - has been low since indoor hospitality reopened. As with The Cod's Scallops, Emir has found the takeaway is also down - by about 10% - although deliveries have remained consistent.
Like Richard Ord Snr, Emir is confident the impact is only temporary. He adds: “I was a little bit surprised at how quiet we were but I think with the pubs and restaurants reopening, a lot of customers are choosing to have something that they’ve not been able to for a while. Pubs have been closed for a good part of the last year, so I think it’s a good thing that they are picking up that trade now.
“Having said that, Sunday was a really busy day for us, we were flat out so already things are picking up. I’m sure within the next week or two everything will be back to normal.”