It’s been more than four long months since the people of Leeds have eaten out, gone for a beer, or met for a coffee. Having entered tier 3 at the start of December, hospitality venues were forced to close their doors, operating only as a takeaway service for those that could. The whole country had followed by the end of 2020.

Now, on the roadmap out of lockdown, we reach a welcome junction; on the 12th April pubs and restaurants, bars and cafes, can reopen and the public can rejoice. Whilst we’re still not allowed to step foot inside, that must wait until the 17th May, venues are able to serve customers outdoors; in beer gardens and in courtyards, on streets and on rooftops, the city’s amazing food and drink scene re-emerges.

But of course, amidst the excitement to rush out, there is also trepidation. Is it safe? Is it enjoyable? Is it worth it? Well, with the precautions put in place by Leeds’ businesses and the efforts they’ve gone to providing a feel-safe feel-good time, we’re confident that the answers, as much as possible, are yes, yes, yes!

So how does it work? There are government restrictions which all places must adhere to, which include checking in, table service, distance between seats, and wearing masks when not seated. And the wider rule of six people or two households still applies, as do standard social distancing guidelines. But the more bizarre laws of previous re-openings have disappeared, with no 10pm curfew and no necessity to order food with your alcohol.

Beyond these, Leeds’ venues are using their common sense to use their spaces effectively. In some cases this means additional orders to understand, like one way walking systems. In many it means pre-planning is required with advanced bookings. In others places it means transformations such as newly erected outdoor marquees. In all, it makes for a collective effort to provide superb service in a safe seat at a splendid setting. 

Indeed, some of the enforced changes have been beneficial and may be here to stay. Parts of Leeds city centre are now pedestrianised to allow venues to work together in creating a secure outdoor area and a collectively appealing atmosphere. Merrion Street’s independent bars and restaurants are already experienced in this, and the similarly outgoing Call Lane is doing the same after a successful trial last year. Requests for this to expand further to places such as North Street and New Station Street suggest that a more connected Leeds could be a permanent improvement to the city. 

Elsewhere, in suburbs all over Leeds, eateries and drinkeries have continued serving their communities within the ever-changing laws of the last 13 months, and communities in Adel and Armley, Garforth and Guiseley, Harehills and Headingley, Meanwood and Morley, Roundhay and Rodley, and the rest, have continued to support in whichever ways they can. Both businesses and customers have been eager to reunite, and neither want to put it in danger. 

So go out. Support the local independent hospitality businesses that have struggled throughout the last year. And do as they ask. Because if anybody can be trusted to know what they’re doing, it’s the people at these places who have opened and closed and adapted, repeatedly and impressively.