Britain’s leading managed pub, bar, and restaurant groups enjoyed their best December trading in three years, the new Coffer CGA Business Tracker reveals. But sales remain well below pre-Covid levels in real terms.
The Tracker — produced by CGA by NielsenIQ in partnership with The Coffer Group and RSM UK — shows like-for-like December sales were 15% ahead of December 2021, when festive trading was hit by concerns about the Omicron variant of Covid. However, sales were only 2.0% ahead of December 2019, and after adjustments for double-digit inflation, they are significantly behind.
It was a particularly strong Christmas for pubs, where like-for-like sales finished 19% ahead of December 2021 as consumers’ concerns about Covid eased and the football World Cup drove fans into venues. Year-on-year growth was more modest in restaurants at 9.1%, while sales in the bars segment were up 11.9%.
The Tracker highlights the ongoing recovery of London’s hospitality sector after Covid. December sales within the M25 were 22.8% ahead of 2021, when Omicron curtailed parties and celebrations in pubs, bars, and restaurants. This is sharper year-on-year growth than outside the M25, where sales were up 12.9% year on year.
“After two bleak Decembers, solid Christmas trading helped many pub, bar, and restaurant groups to end 2022 on a high,” said Karl Chessell, director, hospitality operators and food, EMEA, at CGA by NielsenIQ.
“However, it is clear that sales remain well behind pre-Covid levels in real terms, and fragile consumer confidence and rail strikes made for tough trading conditions. With the costs of energy, food and other key costs continuing to soar, operators’ sales and profit margins are under severe pressure as we move into 2023, and with venues weakened by nearly three years of disruption, targeted government support is urgently needed to protect businesses and jobs.”
‘There is some optimism amongst many operators’
Mark Sheehan, managing director at Coffer Corporate Leisure, said: “Train strikes affected trade on key trading days in December, but despite disruptions trading was solid and many operators, especially pubs and bars, traded better than expected. Cost pressures remain challenging, but there is some optimism amongst many operators.”
Paul Newman, head of leisure and hospitality at RSM UK, added: “Whilst pubs enjoyed a welcome boost in sales from the football World Cup, the 9.1% increase in restaurant sales in December were swallowed up by double-digit inflation, making this the 15th consecutive month of falling eating out like-for-likes in real terms. In better news, top-line sales for the sector beat inflation for the first time since October 2021.
“The headwinds facing the leisure and hospitality sector show little immediate signs of abating, as consumer budgets are tightened further whilst the cost of energy, borrowing and labour remain elevated. The first few weeks of 2023 has already seen some high profile casualties, with Crussh and Byron announcing site closures as part of pre-pack administration deals.
“The first quarter of the year is always challenging in terms of cashflow, with significant rent and VAT outflows due at the end of March, and April seeing the end of energy support and the start of Covid loan repayments. These factors will undoubtedly lead to more restructurings, providing consolidation opportunities for well-funded operators to capture market share from faltering rivals.”
• CGA collected sales figures directly from 80 leading companies. Participating companies receive a fuller detailed breakdown of monthly trading. To join the cohort, contact Andrew Dean at [email protected]strategy.com