Marston’s has retained about 97% of its staff on furlough and kept them engaged by staying in regular contact, chief executive Ralph Findlay has said.

Findlay, told Sky News it had been essential to keep employees engaged by communicating regularly and a lot.

“We did a call online with about 3,500 people three or four weeks ago just to engage people and make sure they are all still feeling part of the business and look forward to coming back.”

That made a difference, he said. He acknowledged there were staffing issues in the sector and said having a good reputation with employees and keeping them engaged had been important.

Findlay has described customer levels at the group’s pubs last month as extraordinary given the weather.

“What it showed is that people have missed going to the pub… and sometimes I was out just watching people when it was wet, and they were sitting there under umbrellas but they weren’t going to be stopped and good for them.

“It’s been fantastic to see,” he said after reporting an underlying loss before tax of £122m, for the half year to 3 April on Wednesday.

Findlay said the company had opened 70% of its estate on 12 April compared with a market average of 30-40% “so we were quite brave, but we’ve got a suburban estate with lots of gardens [and] outside areas and I think we were rewarded for that”.

The company traded at about 80% of 2019 levels “which I think is actually pretty extraordinary in what was a very cold April actually”>

Findlay said customers had been resilient and it was a reminder of what pent-up demand looked like and how much people had missed pubs.