End of Year Sales Hit Hard but Hospitality Workforce Shows Resilience

Challenging trading conditions in December ensured the end of year boost hospitality had hoped for, largely failed to materialise.  The latest figures from Fourth, the leading global software provider for the hospitality, retail, and leisure industries, reveal how festive sales were considerably down in comparison to 2019 but that staff headcounts and hours worked are heading in the right direction.

Fourth’s figures show that combined sales across pubs, restaurants, hotels, and quick service restaurants (QSR) were 24.4% down on December 2019. The industry snapshot shows how the re-introduction of trading restrictions across the UK and concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 omicron variant led to many consumers staying away from the on-trade in the run up to Christmas.

Sales on New Year’s Eve were some 30% down on 2019, making December 31st only the sixth most lucrative trading occasion of the month. The four best days were all in the first two weeks of December.

The Top 6 Sales Days in Hospitality in December 2021

  1. Saturday December 4
  2. Saturday December 11
  3. Friday December 10
  4. Friday December 3
  5. Saturday December 18
  6. Friday December 31

Hotel and pub sales were hit the hardest. The former experienced a 56.5% decline across the month when compared to December 2019, while pubs were down by 29.2%. Restaurants witnessed a 20.1% sales drop, but QSR – the least impacted by restrictions – saw sales decline by just 2.9%.

Sales figures were also hit hard in November – down 35.4% overall against November 2019. Pubs (-35.6%), restaurants (-29.8%), QSR (-21.2%) and hotels (-68.8%) all felt the pinch.

Sales in the sector were in a far healthier position than 12 months ago when a national lockdown in November was followed by the tiering system. Overall, hospitality sales were up by 186% when compared to December 2020.

A Headcount High for 2021

The number of people working in hospitality in December 2021 was the highest it had been since the summer of 2020, when the government introduced the Eat Out to Help Out scheme and furlough was in operation.

However, numbers remain some distance back on pre-pandemic levels, highlighting the significant recruitment challenges the industry continues to face.

Overall, the hospitality headcount is 14.8% behind where it was in December 2019, and 18.6% up on December 2020.

The below figures show the difference in staff numbers in the last two years when compared to 2019.

Dec 21 vs Dec 20                                            Dec 21 vs Dec 19

Pubs                                                   +4.4%                                                                -18.3%

Restaurants                                     +24.5%                                                              -13.5%

QSR                                                    +27.1%                                                              -11.2%

Hotels                                                +26%                                                                 -15.4%

Overall                                               +18.6%                                                              -14.8%


Workforce Productivity at Pre-Pandemic Levels

As would be anticipated with a depleted workforce, the collective hours worked across hospitality were also down (-22.9%) on December 2019 but up (112.3%) compared to 2020.

However, productivity in December 2021 was much the same as in December 2019, perhaps showing that businesses are learning to do more with less. Fourth’s Spend Per Labour Hour metric reveals productivity by calculating total sales and dividing this by the total number of hours worked. This shows that the Spend Per Labour Hour in December was £26.41, not far behind the £26.75 of 2019, and an improvement on the £19.22 of December 2020.

Sebastien Sepierre, Managing Director – EMEA, Fourth, said:

“The re-introduction of ‘work from home’ guidance, restrictive trading measures and a cautious consumer outlook seriously hampered hospitality’s hopes for a bumper December. As the latest Fourth Hospitality Report clearly shows, there is still some way to go to reach pre-pandemic trading and staffing levels.

“However, there are encouraging signs, with staff headcounts in all sub-sectors up on this time last year. Hours worked are heading in the right direction and businesses are seeing similar levels of productivity to 2019.

“With COVID measures and restrictions set to be lifted and workers returning to offices, businesses can look forward to better conditions to aid their recovery in 2022. With new recruits required and a New Minimum Wage on the horizon they will need to work on ways to attract and retain talent.

“Technology and digital solutions play an important role in helping operators hire, onboard, engage and retain team members. Businesses will ultimately have to be smart with their labour scheduling strategies to ensure consumer demand continues to be met and the guest experience doesn’t suffer.”