A POPULAR gastropub has hit on an innovative and romantic way of allowing diners to return while maintaining social distancing.

The pretty, 18th century White Hart at Wytham, just outside Oxford, was forced to close, along with other restaurants and pubs, in March, but has kept a roaring trade during the lockdown with fine-dining takeaways and deliveries.

Now owner Mark Butcher – known to locals as ‘Baz’ – is ready to open the doors of his stone-built inn by filling its courtyard and car park with space-age dining pods.

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The cylindrical wooden booths bear a resemblance to traditional gypsy wagons but are covered in clear virus-proof vinyl, protecting occupants from the coughs, sneezes and the worst of the English weather.

The pods have been made in the village by carpenter Ross Lambert. And after sharing pictures on social media, the pub has been bombarded with requests for bookings and offers to buy more of Mr Lambert’s pods.

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Mr Butcher said: “We’ve all got to work out how we can do socially distanced eating and reassure people that if they come out to see us, they’ll be safe.

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“People keep saying they can’t wait to get back to pubs and restaurants, so we’ve built these things to give reassurance and allow them to come out in groups.

“Since I posted them on Facebook, we’ve had 25,000 views, with people contacting me to try and book and even buy them.”

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Mr Butcher will dot 10 of the pods around the pub’s grounds. And with each seating four people, he is satisfied they make economic sense.

He said: “From a business point of view, social distancing doesn’t normally add up. But this gives me 40 covers.

“They are things of beauty,” he adds. “I got the idea from a restaurant in Amsterdam which was using little greenhouses, but these can be moved together for larger groups in ‘bubbles’.

“They are safe, romantic, protect you from the weather, and allow people to go out.

“We’ll also have live music from local bands, giving people a real life ‘podcast’!

It is just the latest chapter for a pub which has been favoured by town and gown for generations. It has been featured everywhere from Inspector Morse to the romantic comedy Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.

Mr Butcher says: “The pub has been here since 1741 and must have survived its share of crises in that time. But we are still here and can’t wait to reopen.”

The White Hart’s dinner delivery service has proved phenomenally successful, with a different menu of choices each week delivered from Wednesdays to Saturdays.

“They have been selling out every week,” Mr Butcher says. “People are ordering them for birthdays, wedding anniversaries, date nights or just a lovely dinner in. We call in ‘The White Hart at Home’ and throw in goodie bags for special occasions, with flowers or little bottle of fizz.

“The only thing we insist on is you are not allowed to wear your pyjamas!”

  • Book at whitehartwytham.com