Luton pubs got a much-needed spending boost on Monday, new figures suggest, as thirsty customers were allowed indoors for the first time this year.
Trade bodies welcomed the further easing of coronavirus rules, but cautioned that the "fragile" hospitality sector is relying on all restrictions being removed before it can operate successfully.
Banking firm Revolut analysed the data of its 4,000 customers in Luton on Monday, and found that drinkers knocked back around 169 pints per minute at their peak.
The biggest spenders in the area were 18-24 year-old men – which mirrored the national trend – though Revolut said their customers tend to be slightly younger than the national average.
Luton customers shelled out slightly less per round than others across the country – spending £11.94 per transaction, compared to the average of £12.86 across Britain. Though one punter did spend a whopping £171.41 in just one purchase in a pub or restaurant.
Despite this boost to trade, the figures show that spending in pubs in the area was 4% down on an average Monday in February last year before the pandemic began.
Bars and restaurants in England were allowed to serve food and drinks indoors from May 17, following the return of outdoor hospitality on April 12.
Spending in bars across Great Britain was still 6% down on normal levels – which could be because thousands of pubs are still closed and those open have significantly reduced capacity, the British Beer and Pub Association said.
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the BBPA, said: "After some questionable weather during the last week or so, we know Brits are looking forward to being back inside the pub once more.
“This is by no means the end of the crisis for our sector. We need pubs fully reopened without any restrictions at all on June 21 if they are to survive and trade viably. The countdown to freedom, and recovery, is on.”
The figures also show the behaviour of Luton residents in restaurants and cafes on Monday. Spending in dining establishments was 34% lower than what would have been expected last year – compared to the average across Britain of 32% below.
UKHospitality said this week's reopening represents a significant step for the sector as a whole. But Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the trade association, added the step closer to normality was "psychological rather than economic", as businesses are still operating with significant restrictions.
"That’s why we need the Government to stick to the roadmap and remove all restrictions beyond June 21,” she added.
That date is the proposed final stage of the roadmap out of lockdown in England, when all social restrictions would be removed. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there is no “conclusive” evidence to deviate from the schedule despite concerns over the Indian coronavirus variant.