A barmaid pulls a pint of Guinness inside a pub in London
Some pubs offered free or discounted pints to customers © Bloomberg

Pubs and restaurants dialled down offers for free pints and burgers on the UK’s “freedom day” with only a handful of companies offering promotions amid a wave of new infections.

Pub groups JD Wetherspoon and Young’s, the restaurant company Fridays and fast-food chain McDonald’s offered free or discounted drinks and food to consumers on Monday but on a limited basis as all government restrictions on hospitality businesses were lifted.

Young’s, which operates about 220 pubs, offered 30,000 free pints to randomly selected users of its app, a less generous offer than it had previously intended. Wetherspoon said 780 of its 870 pubs would serve beers from local brewers at £1.99 in an effort to promote real ale from small breweries rather than celebrate the easing of restrictions.

Robert Cook, chief executive of Fridays, said so-called freedom day was “very much business as normal” and that while it was offering free desserts to customers it was only to those who registered for its app. “We are working our loyalty as hard as possible,” he said.

The much-touted freedom day on which many of the last government restrictions, such as a limit of six on indoor parties, compulsory mask-wearing and social distancing, ended was a “damp squib”, according to the chief executive of a major pub group, as soaring infection rates caused nervousness among customers.

Even though legally customers were able to stand up to drink and order from the bar for the first time this year, few were expecting a big rise in sales.

Laura Mitchell, marketing manager at Freedom Brewery, which was offering free pints across 40 pubs, said: “A lot of pubs aren’t necessarily changing the way they are operating so [the offer] was more [for] the fact it’s a Monday and driving footfall for pubs that have been struggling.”

Not all pubs the brewery approached chose to participate, many because of severe staff shortages caused by employees self-isolating after notifications from the government’s Test and Trace app.

Meanwhile, most of the 23,000 customers who had applied for a free pizza promotion at Domino’s, the takeaway company, by late afternoon on Monday said they were self-isolating or had come off long shifts.

Customers voiced their concerns about marketing for “freedom day” at the same time as one in six council areas reported their highest number of case rates since mass testing began last summer, according to data from PA media.

Paul Whiting, founder of hospitality specialist marketing consultancy PW Does, said that with infection rates increasing, brands had to be wary of “purely tokenistic” offers and that customers were more interested in what safety precautions businesses were keeping in place.

One Twitter user said receiving online marketing from pubs touting the end of restrictions “puts me off them a bit”, while another from south-east London said an email listing promotions from the discount company Tastecard was “reckless”, adding: “probably time to cancel the membership”.

Tastecard did not respond to a request for comment.

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