PUB, restaurant and cafe owners in Worcester have expressed their joy at being able to welcome customers back inside their establishments today.

As of today, Monday May 17, pubs, cafes and restaurants will be able to serve customers indoors in groups of up to six people or two households, although they will be limited to table service.

Many pubs and restaurants in the city reopened to customers outdoors on April 12, but not all of those have been able to provide al fresco dining and drinking.

The Imperial Tavern in St Nicholas Street, Worcester, has been closed since the beginning of January, but the pub’s manager Fred Jones said he can’t wait to welcome his regulars back this afternoon.“I am looking forward to today more than I can tell you,” said Mr Jones.

“Largely because I get to see our regular group of customers again that we’ve got who are the lifeblood of the pub.

“We’ve got such a small area at the back of the pub we could only get eight people in, so it was unviable for us to open outdoors in April, so it has been frustrating, but we can’t wait for today.” Mr Jones said he understands why people might be feeling hesitant to return to the pub.

“We’ve been so careful and strict in all areas,” Said Mr Jones. “With masks, social distancing and everything that’s necessary just so people feel comfortable and so we can as well behind the bar.” He said he is hopeful for the future, although he suspects “the full easing of restrictions might not happen at the end of June.”

Tony Gibbon owns The Wheatsheaf pub in St John’s.

His pub has also been closed since the last lockdown, but he has refurbished the pub during the last few months.He said: “We are all geared up now and have refurbished the inside of the pub and spent the time repainting everything.I’ve had a rethink as well, the whole dynamic in pubs has changed over the last 12 months – outside areas are crucial now as is making the most of what you have indoors, and showcasing local artists’ work.

“I’m a big champion of local music, and I’ve got quite a lot of memorabilia hanging on the walls and it’s looking great at the moment; I’m really proud of the way it’s turned out, hopefully our customers are going to love it. It’s the regulars in the local community that I’ve felt most sorry for,” he said.

“We’ve got a lot of senior customers who have been coming in here for decades, and also a lot of students, I feel sorry for many of them at the university just around the corner because they’ve been there all locked up with nowhere to go, and we’ve had a lot of bookings from them - it’s really encouraging – the support we’ve had from the local community and customers constantly ringing has been massive help, I can’t thank them enough really.

“I’m really quite excited. We’ve got the place ready to roll and it’s looking great and we just can’t wait to open the door.”

Mr Gibbon added that he also understands people will be hesitant about returning.

“People should just do exactly what they feel and what they feel is right. I completely understand people may be a bit wary about coming into pubs, all I can say is that we’ve done everything we can to make sure it’s a safe environment and we will continue to do so as well.”

Francini Osorio, the owner of Francini Cafe De Colombia coffee shop in Angel Place in the city centre, is also looking forward to today.

His cafe has been offering a takeaway service throughout the pandemic, but the county council rejected his application to provide outdoor seating to customers last month, citing the ‘safety of pedestrians’ on the pavement as the primary reason.

He said: “We have been getting ready for the last few months and have made a lot of changes.

“I can’t wait – I’m really really happy. I feel as if I’m just opening my business again.

“We’ve been shut indoors for a few months so I’m hoping for the support of the people. I am giving free coffee today from 8am to 12pm to say a thank you to everyone for their support and as a welcome back on Monday.

“I hope it will be the last time we have to close inside, and all the restrictions are going to get easier from now on, and I think it’s going to be the last lockdown; it as to be.”

The Olive Branch in Worcester will open to customers indoors tomorrow, Tuesday, May 18.

A post on the restaurant's Facebook page said: "Not long now. We reopen our indoor seating on Tuesday, May 18 and just can't wait to welcome you all back for delicious tapas and Mediterranean food."