UPDATE 1-Wagamama owner says sales near pre-pandemic levels since UK outdoor dining resumed

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May 25 (Reuters) - Restaurant Group Plc said on Tuesday sales from outdoor dining at its Wagamama chain and pubs came close to pre-pandemic levels in the five weeks to May 16, as Britons started stepping out to meet their families and friends after months of lockdown.

Sales at about 130 Wagamama restaurant sites and 75 pubs touched roughly 85% of the levels seen in 2019 in the five weeks to May 16, as the owner of Frankie & Benny’s spent heavily on stretch tents and marquees.

The owner of Frankie & Benny’s said it was seeing encouraging signs since indoor dining resumed last week, even as hotels and restaurants in Britain continue to operate at limited capacity.

Restaurant Group also said average standalone delivery and takeaway sales at Wagamama in the six weeks to April 11 were at three times compared with pre-COVID levels, while leisure unit sales were more than five times, due to a surge in orders during the lockdown.

The company over the past year had to permanently shut some underperforming restaurants, secure new long-term loans, seek out government support and raise money multiple times to navigate the global health crisis.

Restaurant Group said the environment continued to be uncertain and that it had more than 200 million pounds ($283.96 million) of cash on its debt facilities, giving it some protection against a resurgence or a variant of the coronavirus.

The UK government has already warned that the next phase of reopening planned in June may be delayed after a spike in infections due to a variant of the virus first found in India. ($1 = 0.7043 pounds) (Reporting by Muvija M in Bengaluru; Editing by Ramakrishnan M.)