Tables at city restaurants going fast as diners rush to book for April 12

Iain McCarten, head chef at the Last, who created the crab doughnut and who has now dreamed up anoth

Iain McCarten, chef and owner at the Last Brasserie, Norwich, welcomed bookings after a tough time being closed because of coronavirus. - Credit: Archant

Owners of restaurants in Norwich are predicting their busiest month ever as diners rush to reserve alfresco tables.

With lockdown rules easing for outside from April 12, weekend dates are fast selling out at many venues opening up across the city. 

Such is the demand, some restaurants without outside areas which are not opening up until May 17 are also finding those first few Friday and Saturdays booked up - seven weeks in advance.

Brad Baxter, Gonzo's in Norwich

Brad Baxter, Gonzo's. - Credit: Archant

One boss said: "The whole city is trying to get outside and we are really booked up, it's incredible."

For others, the bookings come at a crucial time after being forced to stay closed for so long.

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One chef and restaurant owner said: "We are now at breaking point so we really need to be busy."

Many venues have limited space to offer up outside with some restaurant space uncovered, making them weather dependent. Others are putting up pergolas to create outside areas to cater for more people.

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At Gonzo's in London Street, which reopens its roof terrace from April 12, a Monday, there are no tables available all evening between 5pm and 9pm. Evening tables are scarce all that week and are completely booked up for both Saturdays in April.

Brad Baxter, who runs Gonzo's, said: "The whole city is trying to get outside and we are really booked up, it's incredible.

"We use an online system and so I didn't even know just how busy we are."

Last Brasserie, Norwich

The Last Brasserie in Norwich - Credit: Archant

At the Last Brasserie, St George's Street, which is only reopening next month at lunchtimes only, it too was completely booked up for Saturday, April 17, and only has limited times available for lunch the following Saturday, April 24.

However, it does have five tables outside at the front for walk-ins, which are weather dependent.

Iain McCarten, chef and owner, said: "Everybody just wants to get out, it's been so long now. We are now at breaking point so we really need to be busy. 

"We have to be really careful with staff, all my staff have been on furlough and I have been doing it on my own. I am going to be introducing limited menus that aren't as labour intensive.

"When I took over the Last, I took a massive pay cut and I'm just trying to survive."

Former NUA student Greg Williams is set to open a bar and antiques shop on St Benedicts Street, Norw

Greg Williams and his dog Dylan at Arboretum. - Credit: Archant

Some venues are collaborating with other businesses to offer food.

Greg Williams, owner of cocktail bar Arboretum, on St Benedict's Street, successfully obtained a special licence to use the pavement area at the front.

Together with the Tipsy Vegan restaurant, he is planning street food and drink from Thursdays to Saturdays, starting on April 15.

Although he is taking bookings, he is also leaving around half of the tables for walk-ins.

"Everyone is piling out for those first weekends, the demand is surreal," he said.

"It was the same last year before lockdown when we were turning away around 150 people from the door."

Francis Woolf from Woolf & Social. Picture: Courtesy of Woolf & Social

Francis Woolf from Woolf & Social. - Credit: Courtesy of Woolf & Social

Francis Woolf, who runs the Woolf and Social, in Nelson Street, is creating tables for around 20-35 people outside his restaurant, although some are weather dependent.

He said: "We are getting booked up with our regular customers before even announcing it and are having to turn away some."

Woolf and Social, Nelson Street, Norwich

The Woolf and Social in Nelson Street. - Credit: Archant

Even venues benefiting from having extra large outdoor areas such as the Rooftop Gardens, Rose Lane, were getting booked up.

This venue only has late tables at 8.45pm and 9pm on April 12 with hardly any times free at all for any weekend in the month.

And restaurants not even opening in April because of a lack of outdoor space are already seeing some nights booked up from May 17 when indoor venues can reopen.

At Benedicts, St Benedict's Street, which reopens from May 19, a Wednesday night, it has no tables between 6pm and 8.45pm. On Friday, May 21 it only has tables at 5pm or 5.15pm and Saturday, May 22, only at 5pm.

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