‘We managed to get through Christmas by the skin of our teeth’

By Amelie Maurice-Jones contact

- Last updated on GMT

Tough times: December profit at the Gingerman Group was down £60,000 to £80,000 (Getty/urbazon)
Tough times: December profit at the Gingerman Group was down £60,000 to £80,000 (Getty/urbazon)

Related tags: Christmas, Finance, Sussex, coronavirus, Omicron

Ben McKellar, owner of Hove-based pub the Ginger Pig, said mass cancellations and isolating staff made Christmas a “very tough” trading period.

The restaurateur estimated a £60,000 to £80,000 loss of last month’s profit across the Gingerman Group, which owns East Sussex sites including the Ginger Dog, Kemptown, and the Ginger Fox at the South Downs as well as the Ginger Pig. McKellar said the pub in Hove was down £30,000 to £35,000.

The Government’s scaremongering during December sparked a mass cancellation of bookings, with McKellar approximating a loss of 90% private room reservations at the Ginger Pig prior to Christmas.

The problem deteriorated the week before Christmas Day: “People were thinking, ‘I won't go out, because if I get Covid, it's going to ruin my Christmas’. It was very tough,” said McKellar.

To make matters worse, staff were continuously having to isolate due to positive Covid tests, forcing McKellar to bring in past colleagues and agency staff to “steady the ship” and help sites continue operating.

Stressful festivities

Staff at the Ginger Pig were left stressed and exhausted as often had to pick up extra shifts when colleagues were isolating, which McKellar saw as an extension of the past two years’ uncertainty, which had been “horrendous” for hospitality workers.

“Every day it's stressful,” he said, “you wake up in the morning, and the guys do Covid tests, then we see who we've got available. We were almost running the business on a day-to-day basis, as you can't plan ahead.

“It was touch-and-go for that week before Christmas, but we managed to stay open by the skin of our teeth”.

On the plus-side, McKellar reported a good trading week the last week of December, following Boris Johnson’s Boxing Day press conference announcing no new restrictions in the UK before New Year.

However, this offered little solace. McKellar said: “In a normal December, you would have four really strong trading weeks. This December, we had one strong trading week, and all the other weeks were down. That’s the problem”.

Dark and gloomy months

While the restaurant owner hoped January would pick up profit from people rescheduling their cancelled Christmas bookings, he did not have high expectations.

“Normally Christmas carries you through January and February; it’s your buffer to the dark and gloomy months,” said McKellar.

He continued: “You’re going to find, across the board, people just haven't made as much money as they should have done, and that's two years running, because last year, we only did three weeks of Christmas, and we were closed in November last year”.

However, the real problems were going to come over the next six months, McKellar believed. The VAT increase to 20% in April was “going to be the killer” for the sector.

He said: “It’s all very well borrowing money to stay open, but that's not particularly sustainable. If your labour costs have gone up, and all your supplier costs have gone up then it’s a very difficult business to be in.

“We need a year of reduced VAT so we can claw back the money we've lost”.

Related topics: Rebuilding the Pub Sector

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