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A third of licensed premises reopened in April

Published:  17 May, 2021

After only a third of licensed premises traded in GB's first phase of reopening, today (17 May) marks the opportunity for many more to finally reopen, with most of the two-thirds (67.1%) of operators that have not yet traded having the option to do so as the on-trade is allowed to reopen indoors.

On a less positive note, the scale of damage caused by the pandemic to the licensed sector has been revealed by the latest Market Recovery Monitor from CGA and AlixPartners, which showed Britain had 106,548 licensed premises at the end of April — 8,560 or 7.4% fewer than it did in March 2020.

“The progression to indoor reopening marks an important moment for hospitality and some welcome light at the end of what’s been a long, dark tunnel,” said Graeme Smith, MD, AlixPartners. 

“Profitability in the sector remains a concern, however, and there is a bumpy road to recovery ahead. While some operators’ creative use of outdoor space served them relatively well over the past month, the large majority were unable to welcome back any guests or chose to remain closed,” he said.

For those that did reopen, trading was beholden to the weather and many had struggled to break even, he added. 

The big test will be to see how many sites open their doors from today as we expect all those who will reopen to do so on that date, other than some city centre sites reliant on office workers. This may provide the best indication as to the level of permanent closures caused by the lockdown restrictions,” he said. 

Just under a third (32.9%) of all licensed premises traded during Britain’s first phase of post-lockdown reopening, with just over 35,000 sites welcoming guests since 12 April, with pubs returning in significantly higher numbers than restaurants.

Across Britain, nearly half (49.0%) of all food pubs and more than a third of community pubs (38.7%) and high street pubs (36.0%) traded in the first phase of re-opening, compared to three in 10 (29.2%) casual dining restaurants and one in six (16.6%) other restaurants.

In England, 29.6% of venues have traded since venues were permitted to open for outdoor-only service. The figure was slightly higher (31.1%) in Scotland, where operators had to wait until 26 April, but were given the extra freedom to serve food indoors without alcohol until 8pm. Capacity was notably lower in Wales at 24.6%.

There were some strong reopening rates in major city centres during this phase – Leeds (41.7%), Newcastle (37.9%) and Manchester (37.3%) – but lower numbers in London at 29.1%, were also noted in the report.

This suggested a good first phase of reopening for managed sites, with just over half (52.4%) of these trading – more than twice the number of independents (24.0%). 

However, the fact remains that more than two thirds of Britain’s licensed premises were still unable able to welcome guests, and thousands of pubs, bars and restaurants have been closed for good during the pandemic. 

“As we enter the second phase of hospitality’s reboot, the landscape of eating and drinking out is going to be much changed from pre-Covid,” said Karl Chessell, CGA’s director for hospitality operators and food, EMEA.

The latest Coffer CGA Business Tracker, released last Friday, revealed that managed pub and restaurant groups which were able to open outdoors managed to deliver 74% of normal sales in April compared with the same period in 2019, but overall sales were 60% down with a majority still closed.