'It's not viable': Soho businesses hit hard by lockdown warn of tough financial times ahead as restrictions ease

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Business owners in Soho said they were "thrilled" to be getting back to business as lockdown restrictions ease, but warned of tough financial times ahead.

"I'm thrilled to bits!" said Lesley Lewis, landlady of The French House restaurant. "But we've only got 24 covers... 24 covers don't even make the place viable, it's just very important that we are actually open," she added.

From Monday in England pubs and restaurants will be allowed to serve food and alcohol outdoors and unlike last year there's no curfew.

It means Lesley can only open up on a small part of the pavement in Soho and can't afford people to not show up if they have booked a table.

"We have a little restaurant which now has five tables because of [social] distancing. If someone doesn't turn up it's devastating," Lesley said.

"I'm only taking bookings from regular customers at lunchtime and after that it'll be first come, first served," she added.

The French House has a long history in Soho and attracts its fair share of celebrity customers. But lockdown has put its future in doubt.

"It's been quite horrible, and very, very nerve-wracking because financially it put us in a very weak situation," explained Lesley.

To help raise much needed cash the restaurant started an online auction which includes a painting by Madness frontman Suggs which will help pay next month's rent.

Next week thousands of business owners will face the same situation including the owner or Soho's Little Ku Bar.

"We will be looking at about 20 people outside," said bar owner Gary Henshaw. "It's not viable and it's not profit-making. The amount of beer we have thrown away down the drain - we had the floor filled with bottles all having to go in the bin," Gary added.

The new rules from Monday mean there will be no standing at the bar as customers must order, eat and drink while seated.

The rule of six will apply (up to six people, or two separate households) as will social distancing rules. And diners will be required to wear a face covering when not seated.