UK pubs’ turnover 20% down on pre-Covid levels despite return of indoor drinking

Britain’s pubs continued to pull fewer pints in the first week that venues opened indoors than before the pandemic after Covid restrictions led to a 20% slump in trade compared with pre-pandemic levels.

Pub owners have warned that despite welcoming customers back indoors from 17 May, and a boom in table bookings for restaurants and bars, turnover in the first week of reopening was 20% lower than in the same week in 2019 because of government restrictions and physical-distancing measures.

The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), which carried out the survey of publicans representing 7,000 pubs across the country, said the government’s rules to limit the spread of the coronavirus had continued to make the businesses “unviable”.

Drinks sales initially soared to almost double the pre-pandemic when pubs first opened for business again in April outdoors, according to industry data, but the pub industry has blamed physical-distancing measures for the punters’ muted response to the reopening of indoor spaces.

Under the government’s current rules, pubs are limited to providing table service to limited group sizes of up to six people and cannot allow punters to drink at the bar or standing. They are also required to keep people at least one metre apart and ensure face masks are worn at all times, except when outdoors or seated inside.

The BBPA has warned that unless restrictions are removed in line with the government’s 21 June timeline, the average pub would need to sell more than 24,672 extra pints over a year to make up for their loss in turnover.

The pub association’s survey revealed that across the week of 17 May turnover was at 80% of the same period in 2019 despite 95% of UK pubs, or about 45,000 venues, reopening to trade. The association estimates that if trade continues to stay at 80% of normal, the average pub would lose £94,000 in turnover over a year.

Emma McClarkin, the chief executive of the BBPA, warned that turnover may even fall further if the early enthusiasm to return to the local pub begins to wane because of the coronavirus restrictions.

“When that initial enthusiasm to return to the local cools down, trade could get even worse, leaving pubs unable to get beyond break-even. The countdown to freedom for our sector on 21 June is on,” she said.

The pub sector is one of a growing number of voices within the UK economy calling for the government to stick to its plan to end Covid-19 restrictions in England on 21 June despite rising concerns that the UK may be on the brink of a third wave of the pandemic.

“Pubs trade on incredibly small margins, so being 20% down on normal times is huge and incredibly concerning,” McClarkin added. “Without restrictions removed, thousands of pubs remain unviable and could still be lost forever despite being back open for now.”

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