The Monitor recorded a 1.6% increase in site numbers between September and December 2021- the first quarter-on-quarter growth for more than five years.
However, the data showcases Covid’s damage to the sector: Britain now has more than 8,000 fewer pubs, bars and restaurants than in March 2020- equivalent to a net loss of around 13 sites a day.
CGA business unit director for hospitality operators and food, EMEA Karl Chessell said: “The increase in sites over the last three months of 2021 shows the remarkable resilience and entrepreneurialism of hospitality, and the enduring appeal of Britain’s pubs, bars and restaurants.
“However, after a disappointing December trading and challenges mounting, both new and established businesses are vulnerable as we begin 2022. These positive numbers show how hospitality is ready to kickstart Britain’s post-Covid economy, but without urgent and sustained Government support there is a real danger that recovery will stall”.
The Monitor highlighted an encouraging growth of 1.8% in the number of independent venues in the past three months, which have been vulnerable to closure since early 2020. The report also indicated a 1.9% increase in city centre and high street venues, where footfall has suffered since the pandemic’s onset.
Despite fourth-quarter growth, the future of hospitality is under threat after a collapse in sales over Christmas and New Year due to concerns about the Omicron variant. Fresh restrictions introduced in Scotland and Wales affected more than 16,000 sites, equivalent to 15% of the GB licensed market.
The sector also faces operational pressures including rapidly rising food and energy costs, supply problems and staff shortages.
Signs of light
AlixPartner managing director Graeme Smith said: “It has been another tough few weeks for the hospitality industry, in particular with the loss of lucrative trade over the festive period due to trading restrictions, and significant challenges remain as the industry faces into inflationary cost headwinds and grapples with the exit from the remaining Coronavirus restrictions”.
While Smith believed the full cost of this for the industry would only become clear as the UK emerges from the pandemic, with 8,000 fewer sites in the sector than 2020, it is evident the hospitality landscape has “dramatically changed”.
There were signs of light on the horizon, with the Government’s decision to reduce isolation times for those testing ‘positive’ suggesting, for Smith, that there is a further relaxation of restrictions to come.
He said: “Ultimately, when the sector has the oxygen of being allowed to trade without restrictions – as was the case in England between July and mid-December – demand is strong, providing hope for a sustainable recovery”.