Peter Borg-Neal, executive chairman of the 35-strong Oakman Group told The Morning Advertiser that the first ten weeks of its new financial year (5th July to 12th September) it saw total growth of 39.3% and like-for-like growth versus 2019 of 16.2%.
“We have seen much stronger weekday trading. I think working from home is probably quite a big factor,” he said.
“With people not having a holiday, not going to Glastonbury and not doing a lot of things they have more disposable income.”
He said that trading would have been better if not for the impact of the ‘pingdemic’ and staff shortages.
“We only had about two people that had Covid but had literally hundreds of people pinged. It is has been a lot better since they changed the rules and it has got a lot quieter,” he added.
Borg-Neal said that the impact of the pandemic saw the company “stumble upon a permanent change” with table service.
“It makes the environment better for diners and we find older people stay longer and spend more. We have seen like everyone else an ongoing tendency to eat outside. If the weather is even half acceptable people want to be outside,” he said.
The reasons, he believes is down to a number of factors such as people feeling safer, having got used to sitting outside and also the improved facilities.
The company plans to open 10 sites over the next 15 months with the 36th site set to open in Wokingham this year and the company is already on site in Buckingham.
“We are finding that there are some good sites in very good towns that probably would have not become available if it wasn’t for what has happened to retail during Covid,” he said.
“I don’t think you will be getting good sites for cheap. If a good site comes on it is not just me that knows it is a good site. There is still competition for good sites.”
Oakman Group is also facing challenges of supply in all products as well as finding quality issues, especially with meat. This is down to a number of factors, including the staffing issue that have seen a lack of trained butchers.
“It has become very frustrating and it doesn’t seem to be going away. I think the government has been incredibly stubborn about not allowing the temporary visa situation but we are fairly used to the incompetence of this Government,” he said.
“One would have presumed that the Government would have said is what we will do is post-Brexit is put in an immigration policy that suits the needs of business. They seem to have got it into their heads that if they refuse to do this that all the unemployed people in this country will decide they want to work really hard and become chefs and lorry drivers.”
He does not think that the Government will lock down the country again but they may advise people to stay at home, which could affect future trading.
But he does predict a lot of confusion during the winter months as more people get colds and flu.
“We have already had an incident where a customer was aggressive to another that was coughing. This guy was just a school teacher who had a chest infection and not Covid. But how are behaviours are going to be?” he warned.
“It is all frustrating because if people are going to socialise they should socialise in a well ventilated pub and restaurant rather than a private. It is irritating as we don’t seem to have won that particular battle.“