The hospitality industry feels it has been left high and dry by No 10, as takings plunge following the imposition of a counterproductive curfew.
Sales at pubs, bars and restaurants fell by more than one third compared to the same period last year after a 10pm coronavirus curfew was implemented across most of the UK, according to new analysis that shows the extent of the impact on hospitality.
The figures following the imposition of the curfew drew anger from trade bodies and are likely to strengthen calls to reconsider the measure that critics say only results in people gathering elsewhere, while causing substantial economic damage.
According to the industry analyst CGA, takings at 7,000 venues were slightly above 2019 levels last Monday, as the UK enjoyed unusually warm weather and venues were able to operate normal opening hours.
But sales were 8pc down the following day, after the PM confirmed rumours of an impending 10pm curfew, and fell further during the week as restrictions came into force, first in England and Wales, then in Scotland. By Friday, sales were 37pc below the total for the same Friday last year.
Small city centre pubs in London and Scotland which have remained closed during the pandemic, were 47pc and 44pc down on the same period last year respectively. Late-night bars were the worst hit, with sales on Friday two-thirds below the equivalent day in 2019.
Hospitality sector able to innovate
Kate Nicholls, CEO of the industry body UKHospitality, said the figures were in line with what she had heard, and at this rate many of the venues would go bust. She believes the curfew was brought in without justification and is destroying the sector at speed.
Emma McClarkin, CEO of the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), said pubs had seen an ‘immediate impact’ on trading. If the curfew doesn’t work in reducing infections, she said, it should be reviewed straightaway to give pubs a real chance of recovery.
If the curfew doesn’t work and remains in place, it will mean that hospitality businesses and pubs have been unfairly singled out.
Both trade bodies have called repeatedly for a sector-specific financial support package to see the industry through the winter.
Despite the grim sales data, Jonny Jones, director of client services at the CGA, said the industry could still weather the storm. While there is no doubt, he said, that the curfew has dealt a severe blow to operators and sales had been adversely affected in the first weekend, there has been little time for the market to respond.
One of the great things about the hospitality industry, he added, is its ability to innovate and respond to new market conditions and consumer demands.
MPs call on govt to justify curfew
However, estimates of week-on-week trading will strengthen concerns expressed by trade bodies this week that many businesses will not survive the winter, resulting in thousands of job losses.
Sales data compiled by S4Labour, which provides software for 2,000 venues, showed overall sales down 13pc in the period from Thursday to Sunday following the imposition of the curfew, compared with the previous weekend.
According to the leisure industry analyst Mark Brumby of Langton Capital, there are around 100,000 pubs, bars and restaurants in the UK, making weekly sales of about £800m.
If the figures from S4Labour are representative of the wider impact, the industry could be facing losses of a minimum of £100m per week. If the sales data collated by CGA do not improve, losses could be far higher. Mr Brumby said the cost to the industry of £100m would not be supported by government and decisions on staffing were very likely to be downgraded.
The bar chain Revolution, citing the curfew, has already announced proposals that could mean the closure of its city centre venues.
A cross-party group of 25 MPs has called on the Government this week to publish scientific evidence for the measure, amid concerns it is proving detrimental for the hospitality industry.
Paul Crossman, who runs three pubs in York, said that although the industry is an easy target for restrictions, the curfew is ruinous economically. The scenes at the weekend, he added, where people were crowding outside venues, showed that the curfew doesn’t make people safer, because they are not willing to end their night out at 10pm.