New data shows that despite strong sales growth over the Christmas period, the high cost of doing business has forced hospitality businesses to take cost saving measures to maintain profitability.

The latest data from Fourth, the leader in workforce and inventory management technology for the hospitality and retail industries, has revealed there was a much-needed improvement in festive trading across the sector in Q4 2023, with net sales revenue growth of +6.1% compared to the same period in 2022.

The data, which is pulled from a database of more than 700 companies across the restaurant, pub and hotel sectors, reveals that:

  • December sales were particularly strong across the industry, with an overall increase of +10.5% versus December 2022
  • Sales revenue in pubs declined by -8.7% in November 2023 compared to the previous year, before rising in December to reach an increase of +6.7% above December 2022 figures
  • In restaurants, sales rose by +2.9% in November 2023 compared to November 2022, and sales were up +6.4% in December 2023
  • Weekday trading levels increased across the sector in Q4 2023, with Monday to Thursday sales revenue growing by +4.5% compared to Q4 2022
  • Weekend sales also saw an increase, with +1.5% sales growth on Fridays and Saturdays in Q4 2023

Despite these positive sales figures, food price inflation hit 9.1% in Q4 2023, leaving operators little choice other than to raise their prices by an average of 7.1% to offset costs. This move has still resulted in many businesses struggling to stay afloat, with a large number of closures reported at the very start of this year.

Meanwhile, staff headcount continues to trend down across hospitality, having fallen -2% in Q4 2023 compared to Q4 2022. Headcount in pubs decreased -6.0% in December 2023 compared to December 2022, while the number of restaurant workers fell by -2.5%. In contrast, hotels showed modest growth with a rise of +0.8% year-on-year.

The proportion of new starters has fallen significantly, dropping -30% in November 2023 versus the previous year. While the festive period typically represents a busy time for recruitment, these figures are likely a reflection of the increased costs of doing business, as operators are reluctant to hire more staff for fear of further eating into their bottom lines.

The average number of hours worked has also dropped, and restaurants were the hardest hit with monthly hours worked down by -3.7% year-on-year in December. Hours in pubs also declined, down -0.8% in December 2023 compared to 2022. Hotels were the only sector where hours worked grew in December 2023 compared to the year before, up +0.8%.

Sebastien Sepierre, Managing Director – EMEA, Fourth, said: “With the festive trading period being such a crucial time for hospitality, it’s fantastic to see such a significant growth in sales compared to 2022. These figures can hopefully provide operators with a sense of cautious optimism as we head into 2024.

“However, the high cost of doing business across the sector continues to be a major concern for operators, who are looking to control costs in an effort to remain profitable during this turbulent economic period. In order to maintain margins, it’s therefore essential that businesses find solutions that will help them to drive efficiencies with labour costs and maximise productivity using leaner teams. Workforce management technology is a crucial tool to help manage costs, forecast demand and boost productivity, which in turn gives operators the ability to focus on ensuring first class customer experiences.”