Post-lockdown trading down less than 20% year-on-year in Wells & Co's French sites

By Stuart Stone

- Last updated on GMT

Back to business: 'we thought we’d lose 50% of our trade so to be getting near our levels of last year is really encouraging,' Wells & Co's Ariane Lapegue said
Back to business: 'we thought we’d lose 50% of our trade so to be getting near our levels of last year is really encouraging,' Wells & Co's Ariane Lapegue said

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The first three weeks of post-lockdown trading in Wells & Co’s reopened sites across the English Channel have been described as “really encouraging” by the head of its French estate.

While Wells & Co stated it was afforded “limited warning” before authorities gave them the green light to reopen its pubs, the 190-site operator has revealed that - after a surge on the first evening – initial trade across its reopened French estate was 35% behind last year’s figures.

However, Wells & Co added that in the following days and weeks its reopened sites saw the trading gap close to 30% before climbing to less than 20% down versus the same period in 2019 this week. 

“This is significantly better than we forecast, and shows customers are definitely willing to return to the great British pub,” a company statement read. “However, it is important to note that Wells & Co’s French market is largely 25 to 30-year olds who are less risk averse than older demographics.”

“Wells & Co have been able to make good use of the outside terrace space – but it’s clear, people still want to socialise in a pub.”

This news comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed pubs and bars in the UK could reopen from 4 July​ in keeping with the Government's original exit strategy.

What's more, it follows the resumption of trade at a number of pubs on Guernsey and Jersey​ on 15 and 16 June respectively, with operators of Channel Islands-based pub company Liberation Group explaining that customers had been eager to return and comply with new measures. 

At the time of writing, France had recorded 29,663 deaths due to Covid-19 compared to more than 40,000 in the United Kingdom.

Really encouraging

In the weeks building up to 2 June, when the multiple operator resumed trade at 15 of its 17 French pubs, with only two sites in Paris remaining closed, Wells & Co’s French team, led by Ariane Lapegue, prioritised stocking up on safety equipment and preparing individual plans for each pub’s layout – including table position, where hand cleaner would be placed and the customer journey. 

The French Government stipulated sites were to open with a one-metre social distance with additional condition that all customers and staff wear masks and that mandatory screens were installed on the bar. 

On top of this, the company’s staff were retrained on how to greet customers at a state-sanctioned distancing and explain new social distancing measures. 

“First and foremost, I wanted to make sure our staff and customers felt safe,” Lapegue explained. “Give them that confidence and they will return, time and again, which is exactly what’s happening. 

“Feedback has been great, even if we can’t welcome as many people back into the pubs. We had to work hard to keep everyone apart on the first night, but since then we have all quickly become used to the new normal. 

“Our customers don’t want to risk the thought of losing their pint again and have respected the rules. It’s been such a relief to see their faces and our staff have been so excited to be back. It’s nice to be the ones leading the Wells & Co team back into business.  

“We thought we’d lose 50% of our trade so to be getting near our levels of last year is really encouraging.”

UK forecast 

These figures may provide a boost to pub operators in Britain, who according to data from UKHospitality (UKH) are forecasting a drawn-out recovery from Covid-19​.

As reported by The Morning Advertiser (MA), ​pub operators quizzed by UKH stated that they expect, on average, July trading to make up 37% of last year’s figure if a one-metre rule is enforced.

While this figure falls to 23% under a two-metre rule, it is still the most optimistic forecast of any of the hospitality industry’s sub-sectors. 

Furthermore, in terms of August and September trade, pub operators expect respective figures to fall by 56% and 52% year-on-year under one-metre distancing.

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