THE boss of Brewhouse & Kitchen says he is optimistic about the hospitality trade and the Bournemouth and Poole area after the easing of the coronavirus lockdown.

The company saw like-for-like sales grow 2.9 per cent last week compared with the same period last year as it began a phased reopening of its brewpubs.

Its Southbourne and Poole pubs are already open and its central Bournemouth pub will welcome customers at the end of this week.

Kris Gumbrell, its Bournemouth-based chief executive, said the company had brought around 350 of its 420 staff back from furlough as it continued the reopening of its 22 pubs.

“There was this fear that it would feel like a hospital waiting room, but it doesn’t feel like that at all,” he told the Daily Echo.

Bournemouth Echo:

Brewhouse & Kitchen – which employs 70 people in Bournemouth and Poole – has spent £70,000 preparing its venues for the reopening.

Screens are in place at the bars and between tables and customers can order from their tables via an online platform, B&K on Tap.

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Mr Gumbrell said the opportunity to browse the menu online had led to a change in customer behaviour, with pubgoers more inclined to compare try different food and drink.

He said the company had conducted research among its customers during lockdown. One had said: “If I’m going to put my life at risk coming to see you, it had better be good.”

Brewhouse & Kitchen put in place a support package for its staff, covering mental health and financial health, as well as bereavement support that was not needed in the end. “We’ve been bringing them in for welfare sessions,” said Mr Gumbrell.

“We were very worried about the mental health of our team.”

He said only a handful of staff had left. “Where we’ve had job vacancies, we’ve been overwhelmed by applications,” he added.

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The business has sold food and drink for delivery during the lockdown, delivering mini-kegs worth more than £4,000 ahead of Father’s Day and recording a 75 per cent rise in online sales.

It also has thousands of bookings for its in-person events, such as brewery experience days and gin masterclasses, which had to be suspended for the lockdown.

Mr Gumbrell said the rise of home working could boost the Bournemouth and Poole area, with people less tied to jobs in big cities.

“Everybody in London is saying to me, ‘What are the house prices like?’” he said.

Pictures of the chaos on Bournemouth beach in June were beamed around the world. “Bournemouth has a really amazing opportunity right now. It’s got to stop getting negative press and start getting some positive press,” said Mr Gumbrell.

“I’m optimistic for the area.”

He said the lockdown had been difficult, with thousands of gallons of beer wasted and the business ineligible for much of the government support apart from furlough. But he said the chancellor’s Eat Out to Help Out initiative – subsidising half-price dining out on Mondays to Wednesdays in August – would boost the trade and save jobs.

“At the end of the day, people crave human interaction. We are, by our nature, social animals,” he said.

“In every recession, hospitality generates the pathway out of the recession. We’re always an engine of growth. Hospitality is always the business that puts the investment in and regenerates itself.”