Downing Street is reported to be considering an “al fresco only” return for pubs, bars and restaurants from around the first weekend in April before indoor dining several weeks, or even months later.
But operators said it would favour country pubs with large gardens over central London premises with limited or no outdoor space.
Jeremy King, chief executive of fine dining group Corbin & King, said such a restriction would not allow the company to reopen its most famous restaurant, The Wolseley in Piccadilly.
He said: “It’s a nonsense. Last year the opportunity we were given for outdoor seating was laughable. It was a little strip of pavement behind a horrible green barrier on a camber which meant everything rolled off the table anyway.
“It’s not necessarily safer outside if you have big groups of people huddled together, rather than a controlled environment inside.”
Ranjit Mathrani, co-owner of MW Eat, which runs 10 London Indian restaurants said the proposal was “grossly unfair”.
He added: “In most cases it is unlikely to be viable. Unless you can have 40 or 50 seats outside, it is going to be impractical.
“We should take the same graduated approach they have adopted in South Korea and Hong Kong where you start serving indoors with a maximum of tables of four with no more than two households, or tables of up to eight if it is all the same household.
“Then you can get something going in a controlled structure and every two weeks you could add on another household or whatever.”
Operators also pointed to typical challenging weather conditions in early April, when average maximum temperatures are 12C.
Patrick Dardis, chief executive at London pub group Young’s, said: “Outside only is a continuation of the lockdown for the majority of pubs. This is not viable and the Government needs to start listening to a sector that employs 3.5 million. Outdoors, when it’s cold or raining, is a non-starter. We are not a Mediterranean country, this is little old England.”
Clive Watson, chairman of the City Pub Group, said: “It’s really important to relax all restrictions when the overfifties are vaccinated. There is a danger the Government is going to be over cautious with regards to socialising and hospitality. This caution will have a detrimental effect on everyone’s wellbeing and further damage the hospitality industry.”
Rachael Robathan, leader of Westminster city council, said: “Westminster has around 3,700 restaurants, pubs and cafés — more than any other local authority area — and that’s why we took the pioneering step last year of setting up dozens of temporary al fresco dining zones… The hospitality trade has been hanging on by its fingertips and it supports around 80,000 jobs in Westminster.
“Our message is that al fresco dining will be back in a big way this spring to help protect those jobs and encourage people back to the West End.”
Kate Nicholls, chief executive for UKHospitality, said there would need to be more government support for businesses if restrictions continue.