Pubs and restaurants could re-open earlier than planned after warnings the sector faces a wave of job losses.
Firms were preparing to start serving customers outdoors from 4 July, but 22 June is now being considered by ministers backing a “save summer” move.
The Cabinet is expected to discuss the issue on Tuesday, along with possibly relaxing the two-metre distancing rule.
Trade body UK Hospitality said opening earlier would be welcomed, but easing social distancing was more important.
Business Secretary Alok Sharma has reportedly warned Prime Minister Boris Johnson that 3.5 million jobs are at risk in the hospitality sector because of the coronavirus lockdown
A group of ministers, dubbed the “save summer six” and including Chancellor Rishi Sunak, are said to be keen to get the hospitality sector’s key summer season underway earlier than planned.
Pubs, restaurants and cafes would be able to serve customers in gardens, terraces, marquees, and similar outdoors areas.
But it comes amid growing concern about whether the government is easing the lockdown too early, risking a resurgence of infections.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, said re-opening sooner was welcome, but she questioned if two weeks would make much difference to a sector that has been in deep freeze for weeks.
“The significance is that it does at least give us momentum – allowing businesses to plan and customers to book. July 4 had always only been an aspirational date to start re-opening,” she said.
“This gives some certainty about direction of travel. Some businesses have not opened since last November, because they are seasonal. It is important to start as soon as they can.”
But re-opening could not be done overnight, she said. Businesses had to re-stock and bring back staff from furlough, for example. “It takes time, so the fact that there are talks about a specific date is helpful.”
However, more helpful would be a relaxation of the two-metre separation rule, something pubs and restaurants say could be impossible to police. Ministers are thought to have spoken to counterparts in Denmark about the success of that country’s one-metre rules.
UK Hospitality has estimated that, with a two-metre rule, outlets would be able to make about 30% of normal revenues, whereas one-metre would mean about 60-75%.
The issue will be on the agenda at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, which is also expected to discuss a relaxation of planning rules to make it easier for pubs and restaurants to use outdoor spaces.
Ms Nicholls pointed out that for many outlets, especially those in cities, the only outdoor spaces were pavements.
And she emphasised that just being able to serve customers outdoors would not be enough to save the sector from closures and job losses. Without tourists or the usual supply of customers from offices and shops, many pubs and restaurants would not survive, she said.