LONDON (Reuters) - On a London rooftop terrace on Monday, hundreds of people savoured the chance to meet and drink together for the first time in months, after the government eased COVID-19 restrictions and allowed pubs and restaurants to serve small groups outdoors.
The Skylight bar in the east of the capital was abuzz with chatter and laughter, a welcome return to some kind of normality for Britons who had endured one of the world's longest lockdowns.
"Best I've ever felt," said Chloe Hicks, a student, when asked what it was like to meet up with friends over a drink. "It's really nice to be back out and with everyone."
Matt Culhan said he travelled from Ipswich, some 100 km (60 miles) northeast of the capital, to join the fun.
"I'm having a brilliant time - it's a bit more of a vibe down here," he said. "Everyone's having a great time. Has been lovely. It's an absolutely lovely."
Shops and hairdressers were also allowed to open, as British businesses sought to shake off the pandemic and return to growth after a disastrous year. The hospitality sector was among the worst hit.
Most visitors to Skylight said they were satisfied with the safety precautions put in place.
Skylight was operating at 50% capacity due to social distancing rules and required people to scan a national track and trace app on their arrival. Masks had to be worn until people were seated at their table.
"As hospitality professionals, we just want to do everything that we can to provide an environment for people to have a safe and fun time. And long may that continue," Paddy Ratcliffe, commercial operations manager at Skylight, explained.
The venue expected some 800 customers on Monday and around 4,500 for the week.
Choosing what to wear for the occasion was part of the fun.
"We love our clothes," said Mia Scott, a fashion student. "We've been planning, like ... for ages."
(Reporting by Mindy Burrows; Writing by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)