PUB and bar owners across Romsey and Test Valley are raring to reopen to customers on Monday as England eases out of lockdown.

From April 12, the hospitality industry can reopen for the first time in months, but will only be serving food or drink outdoors.

The 'rule of six' will still be in force, meaning customers can meet up in groups of six - or two households, whichever is greater.

Punters will also have to order from their table and stay seated - enabling social distancing.

However, new test and trace rules mean everyone over 16-years-old must sign in before going into pubs, cafés or restaurants, unlike last year when just one member of a group needed to do this.

If all goes to plan, step three of Boris Johnson's roadmap out of lockdown should see people allowed indoors again from May 17.

At The Four Horseshoes pub in Nursling, a new BBQ area in the main beer garden will serve hungry customers a selection of dishes in a bid to make outdoor dining more appealing.

General manager, Sarah Edom, said she is excited to welcome back customers after the UK went into lockdown on January 5.

She said: "We are all looking forward to being operational again. As you would imagine, we have our regulars who have been counting down to this day for a long time.

"The new BBQ offering for the beer garden is also expected to be popular. Moving forward we hope to serve breakfast at the weekends as well as a BBQ menu throughout the day.

"We are lucky to have good-sized outside areas which are all socially spaced with table service. As always we will go the extra mile for customers and provide the best service we can."

One of the owners of Romsey's coffee and wine bar, Cork & Bean, said the team is excited to get back to work, but believes the Government's rules are "a bit harsh" for businesses who don't have enough outdoor space to reopen yet.

Simon Foster explained: "We are excited to open on April 12 and we have had lots of people saying they are really keen to get back out again.

"We are one of the fortunate ones that have outside space, as we can fit about 30 people, but for a lot of businesses in Romsey they have not got outdoor space, so it is a little bit harsh.

"It would have been fairer if we all waited just a few more weeks so all businesses could open together."

One of the owners of Dish Deli and Kitchen in Latimer Street, Rachel Hedges, said she is gutted she cannot reopen her business until May 17, stressing they would be worse off if they reopened next week.

She explained: "We are not opening on April 12, because it is absolutely not viable for us, as we haven't got enough outside space so we would be worse off if we reopened for a small number of covers we have got at the front.

"It is gutting we have to wait until May 17, but we are looking forward to seeing Romsey come alive again and we have got to hold on for a little bit longer.

"We have always been very supportive of Latimer Street being pedestrianised, which would be amazing for us as we could get more seats at the front, but I don't think there are any plans for that at the moment."

However, Rachel added the business will continue to run its Dish at Home delivery service in a bid to help balance the books.

She said: "We are still running Dish at Home, which is a way we have been able to bring money in without wasting our stock.

"We ask customers for their orders on Monday, shop for the food and deliver it every Thursday, which will probably keep doing until the third week of April before we get ready to open in May."

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