POLL: How was trade at your pub over the festive period?

By Amelie Maurice-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Festive season: Operators open up about Christmas trade (Credit: Getty/SolStock)
Festive season: Operators open up about Christmas trade (Credit: Getty/SolStock)

Related tags Events Finance

Despite concerns the festive season would be a disaster, operators have reported that trade was somewhat better than expected.

This comes after research revealed more than half of small to medium business owners would have to close,​ put plans on hold or find other employment if Christmas wasn't a successful trading period.

Although December was busy at cabaret venue the Phoenix Arts Club​ in Soho, central London, the venue hasn’t made any more profit than last year.

Survey

How was trade at your pub over the festive period?

  • Better than expected

    50%
  • As expected

    25%
  • Worse than expected

    25%

In October, managing director Peter Dunbar was “really worried” about the festive period. This was because rail strikes and Covid concerns meant guests were not locking in tickets to events until last minute.

GettyImages-1330661521-optimized
Central London: The Phoenix Arts Club is based in the vibrant area of Soho

To counter this problem, the venue hired a marketing manager and an events person to attract more bookings.

Some companies that had previously hosted Christmas parties at the Phoenix Arts Club looked to host more locally or even in the office to save costs. It was a “fight” to get the private hires in, said Dunbar.

'Mildly surprised'

Normally, guests treat staff to added tips during the festive season, but the managing director has not seen this happen this year. He had also noticed more poor behaviour from guests.

Dunbar had also seen customers opting to share plates or cut down from a three to a two course meal rather than pull out all the stops.

Overall, the Phoenix Arts Club’s finances have balanced out to the same position they was in last year even though the venue was busier.

At the Unruly Pig in Bromeswell, Suffolk, trade was better than expected.

Brendan Padfield,​ who operates the gastropub, said he’s sceptical of those who say they’ve had a “fantastic boom” as everyone in the industry is weathering tough times.

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Xmas: Padfield is wary of those who say they've had a 'fantastic boom'

However, covers were up in December, as was average spend by head (12.7%) and gross overall sales were up by around 10%.

Padfield said: “I was mildly surprised. It was better than I was expecting because I was expecting a catastrophic drop.”

The operator predicts a bumpy road ahead for the next three months, so he adds that there is no time for complacency.

New Year’s Eve was the big occasion for the Jago, Dalston, east London. The live music venue hosted a party that finished at 6am and featured jazz, afro-dance bands and around five DJs playing everything from disco to house to punk.

But operator Kwame Otiende said when people knew the venue was open late, they also tended to come out late which was “not ideal”.

The event was pre-booked, and there was a big no show rate that was higher than other years. Of the 200 tickets sold, at least 40 people didn’t turn up.

New Year's Eve

This created a problem for the venue. Otiende felt he couldn’t sell tickets on the door in case the pre-booked guests arrived, but then if they didn’t turn up, he would lose out on money.

He said: “It’s a double-edged sword, because if you don’t sell tickets, you have no guarantee you’ll get walk-ins, and if you do sell tickets, you run the risk of loads of people buying tickets and either not turning up or turning up really late.”

He believes this could be due to people pre-drinking at house parties, and deciding they’ve had enough post-midnight, so choosing to stay in even if they have purchased tickets.

The Sportsman​ at Seasalter, Kent, was full in the runup to Christmas. “I wouldn’t say it’s the best we’ve had for a while but it wasn’t a disaster or quiet at all,” said chef patron Stephen Harris.

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Boozer by the sea: The Sportsman is 3.9 miles from Whitstable

January and February are more likely to be quieter, he added. But so far, the first month of the year is holding up with a £40 three course menu enticing guests through the door.

The gastropub didn’t do anything special for New Year’s Eve. “I know people who were nowhere near full, good restaurants as well,” said Harris. “So I’m glad we didn’t put a lot into [New Year’s] because I got the feeling that people didn’t want to spend a lot of money.”

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