The scale of the impact of the developing coronavirus crisis plus the effect of floods earlier in the month on Britain’s managed pub, bar and restaurant sector in February is revealed in the latest sales data from the Coffer Peach Business Tracker, the established market barometer.
Like-for-like sales across the sector fell 3.3% compared to February last year, with managed pubs, restaurants and bars all suffering declines. Managed pub groups saw collective like-for-like sales fall 4.2%, with restaurant groups down 1.8% and bar chains down 2.8%.
“The month started with flooding hitting sales in parts of the country, with pubs and restaurants actually closed in some areas. But as the month progressed, the impact of the developing coronavirus emergency began to take its toll on business – and we can only expect that will have an increasingly negative impact on sales in coming months. The weekly results for the last week in February showed like-for-like sales down 4.4%. We know that members of the cohort will be watching the weekly results closely to track the market performance through these uncertain times,” said Karl Chessell, business unit director of food & retail at CGA, the business insight consultancy that produces the Tracker, in partnership with The Coffer Group and RSM.
“It is impossible to predict how bad the effect of the coronavirus emergency will be on the market longer term, but as CGA’s snap poll of industry leaders last week showed, operators are expecting major disruption. All we can say from these figures is that all parts of the business are being affected, and the worst is probably yet to come,” added Chessell.
Regionally, London had a tougher time seeing like-for-likes down 3.7% compared to 3.2% decline outside the M25.
Pubs saw decline in both food and drink sales, down 3.9% and 4.6% respectively.
While restaurant groups recorded a relatively smaller decline in sales, down 1.8%, the number of covers served in the month fell by 4.9%.
Trevor Watson, executive director, valuations at Davis Coffer Lyons, said: “The exceptionally wet weather last month was always going to adversely affect turnover for most operators which wasn’t helped by Valentine’s Day falling on a Friday depriving operators of a good midweek day.
“As to the coronavirus effect, regardless of the real level of medical risk the public is changing its behaviour, hitting city centres and travel hubs the hardest. Operators’ biggest fear is staff infection which would necessitate complete closure. Paradoxically, local pubs and restaurants might see trade sustained as people stay local – people will not shut themselves away indefinitely and will see smaller scale local pubs and restaurants as less of a health risk. This will undoubtedly lead to a re-distribution of trade. Nonetheless, there has been a clearly compelling case for some Government support and intervention to ease the impact on the sector which is under significant strain,” Watson concluded.
Paul Newman, head of leisure and hospitality at RSM, said: “At the beginning of the month, it seemed that the government’s new immigration proposals following Brexit would be the next big challenge for the sector. These proposals have been swiftly eclipsed by the social and economic disruption from coronavirus. The latest industry like-for-likes point to the start of a prolonged period of falling sales for restaurant and bar businesses. The leisure and hospitality sector needs immediate government support to deal with what could be a massive hit to short-term cash flows.”
The downturn in February has also had an immediate effect on the underlying annual like-for-like growth rate for the Tracker cohort, which represents both large and small groups. It fell to 0.9% for the 12 months to the end of month, compared to 1.6% at the end of January.
Total sales for the month, which include the effect of new openings since this time last year, were down 0.7% compared to same period in 2019.