Slow thaw to big trade freeze

By The PMA Team

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Wind, Public house

Charity: hoping for better weather in 2011
Charity: hoping for better weather in 2011
December's snowfall hit the pub trade hard, though some operators managed good sales growth, says The PMA Team.

Over-rated and gloomy poet TS Eliot described April as the "cruellest month". For pub operators, December brought its own share of misery.

The Morning Advertiser's​ post-December survey of operators found wide variations in performance during the month, but there's no doubt Arctic weather took a heavy toll on performance.

The first two weeks were very cold and caused the Christmas spending spree to get off to a very slow start indeed. Then there was the heavy snow of Saturday 18 December that closed Heathrow airport.

It fell from 9am onwards and could not have been timed more badly. Peach Pub Company reports being "hammered" by cancellations. "It was tragic," reports co-founder Lee Cash.

Hardest hit

Analyst Mark Brumby thinks that the worst-affected parts of the country may have been down by as much as 70% on this crucial day. It looks like those who run destination food pubs in snow-affected locations were hardest hit.

Six-strong Whiting & Hammond, based mostly in Kent, reports sales down 25% on the year before. Boss Brian Whiting says: "It was all weather-related — there wasn't a single week that wasn't affected."

Admiral Taverns, now running more than 1,500 pubs, reported that a fair number of back-street pubs were badly hit because, and this will ring a bell with all of us, local authorities were painfully slow to clear streets of lying snow.

London, as ever, proved to be its own economic micro-climate, with a good number of operators reporting sales growth. Even so, operators claim the severe weather stunted what might have been spectacular results.

The thaw arrived just after Christmas and allowed those suffering cabin fever to leave their homes and spend their hard-earned, producing a solid Twixmas for many.

Overall, though, it's bound to be a little disappointing when we hear the figures from the large estates.

Rollover Christmas

Numis Securities analyst Douglas Jack thinks that snow and cold weather will have taken 5% off like-for-like sales in December.

Again, there will be variations depending on the geographical profile of operators, with quite a few hitting double-digit declines. Wet-led pubs that benefit from pre-Christmas momentum will have lost business — and will not see it recouped.

But many food-led operators are hoping that they will enjoy a rollover Christmas.

One quoted operator tells me off the record that it has around £2m in party deposits that it has promised to honour during January and February.

The hope is that groups of revellers decide that postponement is preferable to cancellation. And the first couple of weeks this month are bound to compare well with the start of 2010. Let's hope that we've had our quota of severe weather for this winter.

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