Sales at pub and bar groups were down by 12% and 19% respectively, whereas restaurants were down 8%, the Tracker produced by CGA, the Coffer Group and RSM showed, with figures collected from 60 companies.
Data showed groups’ total sales in December 2021 were down by 11% on the same month in 2019. This followed four successive months of 2021-on-2019 growth, showcasing the devastating impact of the Omicron variant on hospitality.
CGA director of hospitality operators and food EMEA Karl Chessell said: “These figures show the hugely damaging impact of consumers’ anxiety and restrictions on trading at what should have been the busiest time of year".
He added: “Restaurant groups in particular did well to shore up sales as much as they did, but on top of rising costs, supply problems and staff challenges, the difficult December leaves many businesses without the buffer of cash they would normally rely on in January. Demand for eating and drinking out remains strong, but the sector needs support on tax and other pressures if it is to help power the UK’s economic recovery when Covid restrictions finally ease”.
London was hit particularly hard, with sales down by 15% within the M25, more than twice as big as the 8% drop beyond the M25.
According to the Coffer Corporate Leisure chairman David Coffer, the results were not surprising, with many in fact anticipating worse. That December was preceded by “euphoric” trading growth gives the industry hope that the impending lifting of restrictions, especially working from home, will spike demand in coming months.
However, Coffer believed the industry was “desperately in need of a cash injection”, with many businesses on the brink of closure due to Omicron’s impact.
London especially was a “virtual desert” throughout the seasonal period due to the restrictions of congestion charge, parking and health warnings. Coffer said: “The big question is whether the culture of central city leisure has changed irreversibly- only time will tell”.
Paul Newman, RSM’s head of leisure and hospitality, said: “Although not unexpected, these figures represent a devastating month for the UK eating and drinking out sector. December is such a crucial period for most operators, often representing three times the trade of a normal month. Alongside a fall in sales, profit margins will have been more acutely hit when stock wastage and lower staff productivity are factored in.
“The relaxation of Plan B restrictions cannot come soon enough and I urge those customers who had their Christmas plans cancelled at short notice to rebook them in the coming weeks to support the recovery of their local pub or restaurant”.