Two of Britain’s largest pub groups have warned that punters may have to pay more for a meal and see fewer discounts on the menu as they struggle to absorb rising energy and food costs.
The pub and restaurant group Mitchells & Butlers, which runs pub chains including O’Neill’s and restaurant brands such as Harvester, said it was facing a difficult trading environment. Its rival Marston’s said it was working to mitigate inflationary rises through a combination of cost-cutting and “pricing strategies”.
“Cost headwinds present a significant challenge to the industry, particularly those costs related to utilities, wages and food,” said Phil Urban, the chief executive of Mitchells & Butlers.
Mitchells & Butlers, which has 1,600 UK venues and also runs chains including All Bar One and Toby Carvery, forecast that its costs for the full year would be about 11.5% higher than in 2019, lifting its cost base above £2bn from £1.8bn previously. It predicted its costs could rise by another 6% next year, depending on the volatility in energy markets.
The London-listed hospitality group said it had already bought about 80% of the energy it will need for this year, and about 10% of next year’s requirement.
Urban said the company had already increased some of its prices by about 3% in April, but had chosen not to introduce “blanket price rises”.
“We tend to be a little bit more sophisticated than that; we try to protect entry dishes and entry products and we try to put more premium offers on to allow people to ladder up through the menu if they want to. And by doing that, you can drive spend,” Urban said.
Marston’s, which runs about 1,500 pubs, said it had reduced the numbers of dishes and menus available in its venues, after a review that it said had allowed it to be more confident in its pricing decisions. The company is also phasing out its cheapest two-for-one food offer.
Despite this, Marston’s warned that higher costs would “inevitably” have an impact on its full-year earnings. “We are navigating our way through cost increases,” said Marston’s chief executive, Andrew Andrea. “The pub remains the home of affordable socialising and has continually proven its resilience in previous times of economic challenge.”
Both Mitchells & Butlers and Marston’s said they had not yet noticed their customers cutting back on spending or visiting less frequently, as the cost of living crisis begins to bite. “I wouldn’t be able to point to any change in behaviour at the moment,” said Urban.
“In previous recessions, this sector has proved to be fairly resilient as people tend to protect their social lives, and it is more luxury goods that tend to go by the wayside. But it is early days and we are very conscious that utility bills are probably now hitting.”
Other hospitality businesses said they were currently absorbing higher costs, but warned it would knock their profits.
“Electricity has more than doubled, food is about 15% [higher] and labour costs are about 7%-8% [up],” said Clive Watson, chair of the City Pub Group, which runs 45 pubs across southern England and Wales.
“If we are not raising our prices for our food and drink – and we don’t think that it is the right thing to do at the moment – then we are going to take these costs on the chin,” Watson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.