City centre-based operators have reported a pick-up in trade this week as workers return to offices, as well as a boost in forward bookings in the run-up to Christmas.

While bar and grab and go operators were cautious about being overly optimistic about the past week, they expressed confidence of a return to more familiar trading patterns going into autumn.

The comments come after rush-hour trips on the tube were their highest since March 2020 on Monday.

Buses also saw 39% more passengers, according to Transport for London figures for the period to 10am on Friday.

Stephen Finch, managing director of wine bar Vagabond told MCA: “It’s way too earlier to say anything with confidence, but we are seeing a big uptick in bookings for the months ahead.

“It does seem like companies are proactively organising social activities to entice their employees to come back to the office. It’s early days still, but barring any further stupid government interference, I’m actually quite hopeful that our city locations will have a decent run up to Christmas.”

The Alchemist meanwhile said it has become less reliant on the office worker demographic.

Simon Potts, CEO, told MCA: “Too be honest, we have been fairly sanguine about the whole thing – fundamentally that user group only forms part of our guest base in most sites – and we’ve really not missed them – even in office dense locations such as Liverpool St/Canary Wharf locations it’s not affected our numbers over last few months.”

Potts said bars like The Alchemist which provide experience, were in a far stronger position than their grab and go neighbours who provide amenity to office workers.

He added: “What I can say is that we’ve had a definite pick up in the corporate activity group bookings – particularly looking ahead to Christmas & we’re about 80% up on bookings vs 2019 as it stands.”

In the more lunchtime, grab and go space, James Gould-Port of Island Poke said the brand had seen a significant boost this week.

“So far we have seen a stepped change in performance to the tune of around 40%,” he said.

Nusa, the Singapore-inspired soup concept, reported a similar boost – though with shifts in pre-Covid working patterns.

Hubert Vanier, CEO, told MCA :”Regarding footfall, we have seen a significant upwards move in numbers of people coming to the City. Overall we are still significantly lower than before Covid, but we see a 20-30% increase week on week over the last three weeks.

“Also, the dynamic of when people go to the office has changed, Monday and Friday are now both relatively quiet, and it seems a lot of people go to the office three days a week for now. I hear many businesses still offer free canteen meals or bring in food for staff which limits the number of people going out to grab lunch.”