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Last orders for social distancing gives pubs and restaurants a £400m boost

Boris Johnson was the toast of the Square Mile yesterday after his decision to ease social distancing rules sent pub and restaurant shares frothing.

Almost £400 million was added to the value of the sector in the run-up to the prime minister’s confirmation last night that most remaining lockdown measures in England will end on July 19 — so-called Freedom Day.

These include the mandatory wearing of masks, while pubgoers will be allowed to order at the bar again, although the biggest plus for hospitality will be the removal of the one-metre-plus rule, providing a big boost to capacity.

The UK-biased FTSE 250 closed at its highest level on record, surpassing its previous best which it hit at the beginning of last month.

One of the biggest risers was JD Wetherspoon, whose chairman, Tim Martin, has been among the most vocal critics of the government’s Covid-19 response. The pub chain’s shares jumped by 39p, or 3.2 per cent, to £12.73.

Also up was Mitchells & Butlers, which operates the Harvester, Miller & Carter and All Bar One brands. Its share price rose by 10p, or 3.5 per cent, to 300p, representing an increase of 75 per cent over the past 12 months.

Among restaurant stocks, The Restaurant Group stood out. The operator of Wagamama and Frankie & Benny’s jumped by 2½p, or 1.8 per cent, to 136p. Meanwhile Fulham Shore, which owns the Franco Manca and Real Greek chains, was a halfpenny better off, rising by 3 per cent to 17¼p.

Both restaurant firms have developed significant delivery businesses during the pandemic, helping to keep their heads above water, but Domino’s Pizza, which only does delivery and takeout, still rose by 10½p, or 2.6 per cent, to 412p.

Whitbread, which in addition to its Premier Inn hotels runs the Beefeater and Brewers Fayre chains, limbered up for Freedom Day with a rise of 37p, or 1.2 per cent, to £32.40.

The British Beer & Pub Association said lifting the restrictions would mean that more than 2,000 pubs which had been forced to stay shut under social distancing and table service rules would be able to reopen.

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