Emerging from lockdown 2.0 and the resilience of the licensed leisure sector
By Holly Gillard, surveyor in the licensed leisure team at Savills Manchester
The UK pub sector proved its resilience over the summer following the lifting of the first national lockdown on 4 July and the love for the British pub was reaffirmed. Spending in pubs and bars according to Barclaycard Data was up 9% in September with transaction levels up 11.3%.
Operators remained focused on delivering good customer experiences and providing innovative solutions to social distancing rules and following trading results released by some of the national pub groups there was a quiet optimism among the sector.
Reopening in the Covid-19 world posed a number of operational challenges for the sector, namely reduced capacity, table service, contact tracing and more latterly the 10pm curfew, restriction to six customers per table and face coverings. Operators proved their adaptability introducing measures to ensure continued operation and customer safety.
Reduced tables, Perspex screens, one-way systems and hand sanitizer stations became the new normal and although there were initial fears that this clinical approach would deter customers, clear ‘Covid management’ proved favourable in restoring consumer confidence.
Positively we have seen an advancement in technology with many operators following in the footsteps of Wetherspoons developing an order and pay app to reduce contact between customers and staff. With increasing restrictions and with reduced staff numbers apps have helped to improve efficiency and reduce costs. It seems, for now, the long-standing tradition of waiting at the bar has gone, perhaps for some not such a disappointment?
The small mercy of the first reopening was timing. During the summer, pubs were able to capitalise on the good weather attracting customers which may have otherwise been nervous to return to the pub. In some cases, those sites with large outdoor areas in destination locations were trading above pre-Covid levels and we have certainly seen a shift in the acquisition requirements of operators towards rural, suburban locations.
Beer gardens and outdoor areas are now a key focus and many have had a facelift since the first lockdown. Operators are maximising outdoor trade through temporary outdoor bars, marquees, outdoor booths, heaters and reducing parking to allow larger trade areas.
For temporary external structures and temporary trade areas there are planning and licensing obstacles and it is important to check the current licensing plan and attached conditions. The introduction of the new process for pavement licenses, with a fee capped at £100 and a consultation period of five working days, allows a quicker and cheaper route for businesses to obtain a license on a public highway, a helpful process particularly for those businesses with limited external trade areas.
Now we are in a England’s second national lockdown pubs will draw upon the successes seen over the summer to ensure a second reopening is just as successful.
With internal ‘Covid systems’ now fully integrated into the customer experience, attention is now on maximising outdoor trade in the colder months. Although the image of being sat by an open fire in a cosy pub is synonymous with winter, customers do enjoy outdoor experiences provided they are warm and dry.
Social distancing rules add an additional obstacle, however operators have found innovative ways to creative a pleasant outdoor experience within the rules. The Greyhound at Stockbridge, Hampshire, has implemented three outdoor igloos offering a ‘dine out’ experience with a maximum of six guests per igloo, a concept that has proven very popular with bookings through until Christmas. Similar examples of this are outdoor cabins offering private dining for couples or small groups.
For those city centre pubs with limited availability of space for such concepts, there is an opportunity for operators to capitalise on the lack of the Christmas markets. Heated parasols, outdoor heaters, fire pits are likely to become popular features of beer gardens which combined with an app order and pay system offers customers a full outdoor experience.
There is no doubt that the second re-opening will bring new challenges beyond what we have already seen, however operators are driven to providing a good, safe customer experience and we are likely to see more creative trading solutions.
Portobello Brewery takes over 13 Antic pubs
West-London based brewer and operator, Portobello Brewery, has agreed to take over the management of 13 Antic pubs across the capital – growing its stable to 15 sites – after Antic’s financial partners terminated their relationship.
As reported by Brixton Buzz, the 13 pubs include flagship venue Westow House in Crystal Palace, in addition to venues in Peckham, New Cross, Brixton, Eltham and Sutton.
A message from Antic, which operated its sites with the backing of Downing Corporate Finance, posted on Brixton bar the Effra Social’s website stated: “I’m afraid that 36 hours before the latest lockdown our long-term financial partners decided to serve notice upon us to terminate our management relationship for those pubs in which they had an interest, including Effra Social, with immediate effect and replace us with Portobello Brewing, and so you may see some changes when you visit post lockdown.
“We had no prior notice of this intent and we have made it clear that such an action was to our mind untimely, unwarranted, and we believe ill-conceived, and certainly not what one would expect from an 11-year relationship.
“I guess that all break ups are a surprise for the party on the receiving end.
“We shall do all that we can to ensure that these pubs are returned to the Antic Collective, sooner rather than later, after all they were all conceived by us and quite a few were established long before our funder's involvement, and the spirit of our rather eclectic public house approach is clear to see within both the buildings and the lovely folk who put them at the heart of the communities that they serve.”
‘No evidence of severe distress’ in pandemic pub property market
Pub property experts from Davey Co, Fleurets, Christie & Co and Savills run the rule over the pub sector amid England’s second national lockdown.
Paul Davey, managing director of independent national business agent Davey Co explains that he saw a “marked uplift” in market activity from early July when pubs were permitted to re-open.
“Market sentiment and front-end activity improved albeit at an understandably lower level than compared to activity levels before Covid bit hard with lockdown one in March,” he tells The Morning Advertiser (MA).
“Since the second lockdown overall activity has been quiet, again. Uncertainty over the scenario pertaining post 2 December is having a significant effect.
What’s more, Simon Hall, director, agency, at leisure property specialist Fleurets, adds: “Transactions are still happening but for the six months to March compared to the six months to Sept transaction volumes at Fleurets were down 53%.”
Community bid to revive local after 12-month closure
Residents of Great Chishill in south Cambridgeshire have established The Great Chishill Community Pub Ltd and engaged The Plunkett Foundation as they attempt to buy their local pub, which closed in October 2019.
As reported by The Royston Crow, the Pheasant, an Asset of Community Value, was put on the open market in September 2020.
“We undertook a survey in the summer and the results indicated that 80 per cent of people who responded would like the pub to be maintained as a community pub should no appropriate buyer come forward,” the community group’s chairperson Tim Scott said.
“The Pheasant used to be a tremendous asset to the village and was supported by local businesses, community groups, village B&Bs and sporting groups such as the cricket and football club. It is very sad to see it closed.
“It would be fantastic to have it open again and to return it to the very successful village hub it once was.”
Hackney Brewery to crowdfund new brewery and taproom
East London beer maker, Hackney Brewery, has launched a crowdfunding campaign to bankroll a new brewery and taproom near Blackhorse Road by offering customers twice their money back over the bar when the site opens in March 2021 as it marks a decade in business.
Built on the site of Hackney Brewery’s original brewhouse, the 7,500 sq ft site – christened High Hill – will house a new beer hall and large outdoor seating area, with plans to expand the brewhouse and build a kitchen in a second phase.
To fund their expansion, founders Pete Hills and Jon Swain have decided to launch a Pay It Forward Scheme via crowdfunder.co.uk, offering drinkers the chance to put money behind the bar before Hackney’s new home opens until 19 December.
“After ten years the thing we’re most excited about having our own taproom at last, serving our beer in peak condition,” Swain says. “With that finally being possible we wanted to give something back to everyone who has supported us since 2011 and especially in the last year – that’s what the Pay It Forward campaign is really about.”
Hills added: “We’ve been looking for a site for a long time, but High Hill was worth the wait because the space is perfect for us inside and out. This is a huge step for us, putting us on a national stage while still remaining rooted in the London scene we love so much.”
Herefordshire pub to reopen after eight-year closure
Seventeenth century coaching inn, the Swan at Letton is to be revived after almost a decade of closure following investment from a local businessman, according to The Hereford Times.
Luke Conod, who owns shops in Hereford such as The School Uniform Shop and FIT Menswear, has embarked on the pub revamp with Byron Campbell, with the pub set to open on 3 December after the easing of England’s second national lockdown.
“Next to agriculture, tourism is one of the biggest revenue generators for the county.” Conod said.
“Hotels, guest houses, B&Bs, bars, pubs, restaurants, shops and attractions all rely on visitors to the area spending money with their businesses.”
On top of upgrading the site’s accommodation facilities, a large heated outdoor terrace with covered seating for up to 100 people has been built, in addition to a relaxing bar area and a 40-seater restaurant which will open in the spring next year.
“We’ll be sourcing as much of the food and drinks that we serve as we possibly can from the local Herefordshire farmers, growers and suppliers right here on our doorstep and by the summer we’ll be employing up to 30 local staff, so we’ll be making a sizeable contribution to the economy of the community that we’ll be serving,” Conod added.
Rosewell Estates secures £2.5m to protect 24-site stable
Liverpool-based pub operator Rosewell Estates has secured £2.5m funding from Barclays to protect more than 200 jobs across its estate of 24 wet-led pubs.
The financial support package includes £900,000 via the Government-backed coronavirus business interruption loan scheme.
Rosewell Estates’ turnover is just over £9m with 225 members of full and part-time staff employed across its portfolio.
“In 2019, we entered into discussions with various corporate banks as we looked to secure a refinance and restructuring package with a suitable long-term partner,” Caine told Business Live. “Barclays were successful after impressing us with their sector knowledge, expertise and wide range of services they were able to offer to assist and complement the business.
“After a successful application process, matters began to progress with a provisional completion target date of March 2020. Unfortunately, the pandemic then struck, throwing both the deal and the hospitality industry into a tailspin of uncertainty. Over the following months, we worked closely with Rob Morland and his team, overcoming the many challenges that the pandemic has thrown at both our business and the industry as a whole.
“Rob never wavered in his support to the business and his adaptability and tenacity enabled us to achieve our ultimate goals. We cannot thank Rob Morland and his team enough for their relentless efforts and support throughout these unprecedented times. We now look forward to working together with Barclays as we come through the pandemic and look forward to growing the business with them.”
To find out more about pubs for sale, lease and tenancy visit our property site