Dining out in UK at lowest level since May amid Omicron fears

The number of people dining out across the UK has fallen to the lowest level since the reopening of indoor hospitality, according to restaurant industry figures covering the first few days since news broke about the Omicron coronavirus variant.

The seven-day average estimate for UK seated diners fell six percentage points in the week to 29 November, reaching the lowest point since 17 May when indoor dining reopened in England, Scotland and Wales.

While the number of people eating out remained above levels recorded during the equivalent week in 2019 before the onset of the pandemic, at 111%, the figure was down from a level of 117% in the previous week, according to the figures from the booking platform OpenTable.

The figures, which are tracked by the Office for National Statistics for early signals from the British economy, also cover a week when Storm Arwen triggered a decrease in economic activity.

Separate figures from the ONS showed a drop in road traffic levels and daily ship visits to UK ports towards the end of last week. “This may in part have been because of adverse weather conditions towards the latter end of the week caused by Storm Arwen,” it said.

The volume of vehicle traffic on Britain’s roads also fell on 29 November, by five percentage points from the previous week, decreasing to 92% of the level recorded in the first week of February 2020 before the spread of Covid-19.

Numbers of people eating out continued to fall on Monday and Tuesday this week, according to daily figures from OpenTable. In a potential sign of consumer caution after the news of Omicron broke, seated diner numbers fell to 4% and 7% below pre-Covid levels on the first two days of this week compared to equivalent days in 2019.

Although the number of people eating out is typically lower at the start of the week, this was the weakest daily figure since July.

It comes as hospitality bosses report a wave of cancellations of bookings for Christmas parties and events following the emerging news, late last week, of the Omicron variant just as pub, restaurant and hotel operators were hoping to welcome many customers during the crucial festive season.

The snapshot from the ONS largely covers the week to Sunday, meaning only a handful of days since news of Omicron have been assessed so far.

Boris Johnson announced measures at the weekend to limit the spread of the Omicron variant, including compulsory face coverings from Tuesday in shops and on public transport in England, though he stopped short of including the hospitality sector. However, businesses fear tougher measures could soon follow.

Alan Thomas, the UK CEO at Simply Business, a small business insurer, said: “The return of Covid-19 restrictions amid growing fears around the Omicron variant will leave many small business owners worrying about the risk of a bleak Christmas. Not only could they signal further, tighter, restrictions, but they may also dampen consumer confidence – with many in the hospitality sector already reporting cancelled bookings.”




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