The latest edition of the Coffer CGA Business Tracker reveals a tougher holiday season for pubs and bars, especially in London, with 12% and 19% sales drop respectively than for restaurants, facing an 8% decrease. Caused by widespread cancellations of Christmas celebrations, this shows the damaging impact of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 on the hospitality sector, as many consumers decided to stay at home in the run-up to Christmas.
Paul Newman, head of leisure and hospitality at RSM, said: “Although not unexpected, these figures represent a devastating month for the UK eating and drinking out sector. December is such a crucial period for most operators, often representing three times the trade of a normal month. The relaxation of Plan B restrictions cannot come soon enough, and I urge those customers who had their Christmas plans cancelled at short notice to rebook them in the coming weeks to support the recovery of their local pub or restaurant.”
On the other hand, according to new research from the CGA, consumer’s confidence in eating and drinking out remains high, regardless of the Omicron variant’s rapid spread. Its Consumer Pulse survey has found that 70% of people now feel confident about visiting pubs, bars and restaurants which is more than double the number at the start of 2021 (34%) and a sharp increase from its July research (52%). However, research of 2,000 nationally representative consumers indicates that anxiety about Covid-19 still remains, with more than half (55%) of consumers concerned about Omicron and 67% worried about a further peak in infections.
Nonetheless, the hospitality sector’s efforts to protect guests have proven to be effective, with 71% of people saying that they feel ‘very’ or ‘quite’ safe on their last visits, which is a slight increase from July’s total of 69%, according to CGA. Also, consumers are willing to support this sector that has been negatively affected by Covid-19, with 70% being worried that venues may not survive the pandemic, and 62% saying that are actively supporting their local hospitality businesses. Looking forward, there are signs that footfall will increase in the upcoming months, as 19% of consumers plan to visit venues more often than they did before and 33% say they will increase their frequency of visits after the end of January. Yet, 17% of respondents have said they will decrease their hospitality venue’s visits this year. According to CGA, hygiene and cleanliness will remain important factors for some customers’ visits.
The CGA’s group CEO Phil Tate shares: “After a very tough Christmas, these numbers are a welcome reminder of the huge underlying appeal of Britain’s pubs, bars and restaurants. Having missed out on so many hospitality occasions in 2021, and with concerns about safety easing, we can be cautiously optimistic that spending will rebound as the year goes on. But this is a resilient and resourceful industry, and with the right support from the government it is well placed to drive Britain’s economic recovery in 2022 and thrive in the long run”.
Considering current events, the announcement from the prime minister that the ‘Plan B’ restrictions will be removed, consumers’ concerns may start to increase. Leading figures in the hospitality sector told the Guardian that, pubs would face greater financial difficulty unless people kept visiting them during January, which is also referred to as Dry January when people stop alcohol consumption. CEO of UK Hospitality Kate Nicholls encourages people to still consider something else at the bar or going out for food. “This year, there are an awful lot more non-alcoholic options available that are really good quality, so there’s no excuse not to go out and support your local hospitality business” she adds.