PUBS and restaurants in Oxford are bracing themselves for a challenging few months as they prepare to reopen their doors.

Dozens of city businesses will start trading again on Saturday, July 4, after Boris Johnson announced major changes to England’s lockdown restrictions.

The news was welcomed by pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants, with more than three months having passed since they were forced to shut.

But social distancing guidelines mean they will be operating in a very different environment, with one pub owner admitting it will be a ‘learning curve’.

Read also: All the new coronavirus rules listed

Most businesses will be forced to run well short of capacity, including Gino’s Spaghetti House in Gloucester Green.

Restaurant manager Liberato Maioriello is excited to reopen but revealed he was not even expecting to reach 40 per cent of his pre-lockdown weekly takings.

He said: “It’s like coming out of a tunnel. The sharp interruption to business did lots of damage.

“But reopening won’t cover the expenses. Before, Friday and Saturday covered us for the week, but now it will be nowhere near what it was.

“The landlord is expecting us to pay the rent and that's our biggest concern.

Oxford Mail:

“Because of social distancing we can’t pack the restaurant anymore – this is the main thing reopening isn’t going to solve.

“It’s challenging, but we need to face it. We’re excited, because it’s like starting again.”

Gino’s, like the majority of the hospitality sector, was ordered to close on March 20 to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The restaurant has not been running a takeaway service, so will serve customers for the first time in three-and-a-half months on July 4 with a host of restrictions.

Read also: McDonald's reopens in Oxford

Included in the latest government advice is reconfiguring seating, mandatory table service (with self-service not allowed) and barriers or screens to separate people.

Many places are being asked to keep a temporary record of customers and visitors for 21 days, to support the test and trace system.

Samantha Stonehouse, co-owner of The Black Boy in Headington, revealed the pub and restaurant will only allow one person to use the toilet at a time.

Read also: Headington pub reopens as shop and takeaway

The venue has operated as a community shop and takeaway during lockdown and Mrs Stonehouse said this has proved vital.

“If we hadn’t opened the shop I don’t think we’d still be here,” she said.

“We’ve met a lot of people who wouldn’t necessarily have come to the pub before, and built up a real community.

Oxford Mail:

“We’re excited, but it’s going to be a learning curve.

“It will be a long time before customer confidence comes back and I don’t blame them.

“We’ve been as safe and responsible as possible.

“Even though the social distancing rule has been dropped to one metre, we’re still going to be over-cautious.”

The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has backed the latest government guidelines, while also expressing concerns over the impact on independent pubs.

Last month, a survey by the British Beer and Pubs Association found four in ten boozers feared they would not survive beyond September without extra support from the Government to help them through lockdown.

Read also: Oxford CAMRA welcomes pub reopening announcement

Oxford CAMRA spokesperson Dave Richardson said he feared for smaller pubs, especially those without outdoor drinking areas or with only one entrance and exit.

He added: “We’re more concerned about the smaller independent pubs who won’t get the support from chains.

“Pubs have had nothing for three months and will now be trading at a fraction of what they had before.

“The smaller the pub, the greater the burden.

“They desperately need our support and we certainly urge people to tough it out.”

Mary Clarkson, Oxford City Council’s cabinet member for city centre, Covered Market and culture, is speaking to the council’s licensing team about increasing outdoor seating for pubs, bars and eateries to help maximise footfall.

Oxford Mail:

The councillor for Marston added that many businesses were worried about the lost income generated by the city’s universities, although Oxford University will resume face-to-face teaching in October.

She said: “The big question traders have been asking is when will the universities be back.

“So many of the restaurants, cafes and pubs rely so much on not just students but also staff.

“I really hope more people in the city and county take this opportunity to spend more time here.

“It’s probably going to be quieter than usual, so there’s never been a better time.”