It is likely that increasing numbers of pub companies will look to vibrant market towns for new sites as fewer people are expected to return to the office full time post-pandemic, Clive Watson, chief executive, City Pub Group has said.

Speaking during MCA’s The Conversation event this week, Watson said while the ambiguity around commuters’ working patterns post-pandemic mean it is difficult to plan when it comes to property strategy, the group was not focusing on city centre locations because he thinks it will take a long time for offices to go back to any sort of normality.

“I think the days of people working five days a week from their desk are probably over,” he said. Adding that due to the additional factor of there being very few tourists currently, “the central zone of London is going to be tough for a long, long time”.

“We are probably looking, like other people, at areas where there this is high residential density, and good strong local communities, where it is not on a high street,” he said, adding that he foresees a possible drift away from cities to large market towns where there is still vibrancy, but where people aren’t commuting into the big cities to work. “I think those places are going to be the areas where pub companies like ourselves are going to be looking more closely at.”

Watson said that City Pub was looking to open around 60% of its estate come the 12 April, with around a third of those sites offering “proper takeaway drinks and food”, which would include flagons of beer rather than plastic cups.

He said the group had seen a lot of success from its takeaway offering – initially trialled during the first lockdown last March, and that he was keen to provide takeaways that people would collect to take home, as well as enjoy with friends in the park, for example.

“I think that’s where pubs and restaurants don’t necessarily need things like Deliveroo,” he said. A click and collect type offering, where people come to the pub and pick up some food and drink to take home, or elsewhere is what the pub group is keen to build on he said.

Speaking about reopening, Watson said it was vital there is no spillage on dates and that all restrictions are removed by 21 June, so the pubs can benefit from the trade from larger groups and from sporting events, for example. “If we don’t have that additional trade we are really going to be treading water,” he said.

“The aid that the government gives us has to be matched with the way we come out of lockdown, so if we are not coming out of lockdown in the way envisaged then we have to have continued or enhanced aid,” Watson added.

UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said that although the government was not talking about additional aid “openly” if those dates aren’t met, there are saying that it’s “definitely achievable and definitely their ambition to remove all restrictions by that date”.