UK pubs and restaurants enjoy 'ringing tills' after COVID rules relax

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LONDON, May 20 (Reuters) - Spending at British pubs and restaurants has surged since coronavirus rules were relaxed on Monday to allow people to eat and drink indoors for the first time in months, industry data showed on Thursday.

Figures from card processor Barclaycard Payments showed spending at pubs and bars since Monday was 171% higher than the previous week, while restaurant sales were 58% higher.

Barclaycard Payments' Chief Executive Rob Cameron, said pent-up demand for socialising "has brought the welcome sound of ringing tills to restaurants, pubs and bars across the country".

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Overall hospitality spending was up 43% on the previous week, and 9% higher than the same period two years ago, despite restrictions on pub capacity and continued closure of venues such as nightclubs.

Separate figures from booking website OpenTable, produced for Britain's Office for National Statistics, also showed a steep rise in restaurant bookings.

Reservations in the week to May 17 - which included just one day of the new relaxed rules - rose to 73% of their level two years ago, before the pandemic. This was up from 60% the previous week, according to figures from OpenTable.

The proportion of employees on the government's job-supporting furlough scheme also fell to 10% in late April and early May, down from 11% two weeks earlier and its lowest since the start of the year, the ONS said.

However, overall consumer spending fell last week, according to Bank of England data on card payments released by the ONS.

Aggregate spending in the week to May 13 was 97% of its level in February 2020, before Britain went into its first COVID lockdown, down from 108% the week before. The sharpest drop came in spending on 'delayable' goods such as clothes and furniture.

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Reporting by David Milliken Editing by William Schomberg

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