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Bar groups suffer 19% sales drop in December

British hospitality chains reported a double-digit sales fall in December 2021, compared to pre-pandemic levels, with bars suffering the most.

Alchemist bar in Leeds
The Alchemist bar in Leeds

The latest edition of the Coffer CGA Business Tracker revealed that Britain’s managed restaurant, pub and bar groups experienced a 11% decline last month, when compared to December 2019.

Bars reported the biggest decline at 19%, followed by pubs at 12%. Restaurant chains fared slightly better with an 8% drop.

The decline was due to the emergence of the omicron variant of Covid-19, causing widespread booking cancellations as customers stayed at home in the run up to Christmas.

Work from home guidance and the requirement for an NHS Covid Pass or negative lateral flow test to enter nightclubs were part of UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s ‘Plan B’ measures in England, which came into force in December 2021. The measures are due to expire on 26 January.

Karl Chessell, director of hospitality operators and food, EMEA at CGA, said: “These figures show the hugely damaging impact of consumers’ anxiety and restrictions on trading at what should have been the busiest time of year.

“Restaurant groups in particular did well to shore up sales as much as they did, but on top of rising costs, supply problems and staff challenges, the difficult December leaves many businesses without the buffer of cash they would normally rely on in January.

“Demand for eating and drinking out remains strong, but the sector needs support on tax and other pressures if it is to help power the UK’s economic recovery when Covid-19 restrictions finally ease.”

London experienced a particularly challenging month, with sales for hospitality chains within the M25 falling by 19%, while outside of the M25 venues reported an 8% drop.

‘Brink of closure’

David Coffer, chairman at Coffer Corporate Leisure, added: “The industry lives in hope that the impending lifting of restrictions, especially working from home, will see a spike in demand in the early part of the year.

“The industry is desperately in need of cash injection and there are many, no doubt, who will be on the brink of closure as a result of the impact of omicron. The spectre of debt in so many forms is ever becoming a reality and we may well see an abundance of casualties throughout the industry as a result.

“London was a virtual desert throughout the seasonal period as a result of the restrictions of congestion charge, parking and health warnings which made punters consider a visit to the central core over the festive period with great caution. The big question is whether the culture of central city leisure has changed irreversibly – only time will tell.”

CGA collected sales figures from 60 hospitality operators, including Revolution, Stonegate Pub Company, The Alchemist, Mitchells & Butlers, Snug Bar, Laine Pub Co and McMullen & Sons.

Drinks sales in Britain’s bars, pubs and restaurants dropped by a quarter in the last three weeks of 2021, however spirits surpassed all categories.

Pubs, bars and restaurants lost £10,335 (US$14,000) on average in the week leading up to 25 December 2021, according to UK Hospitality.

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