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Restaurant January sales up on pre-Covid as restrictions ease

Published:  15 February, 2022

Rising consumer confidence about safety and the easing of Covid-19 restrictions helped Britain’s managed pub, bar and restaurant groups to a modest increase in sales in January, the Coffer CGA Business Tracker has revealed.

The latest edition of the Tracker, produced by CGA in partnership with The Coffer Group and RSM, shows groups’ total sales in the first month of 2022 were 3% higher than in January 2019. This represents a solid recovery from December, when heavy Covid-19 measures were in place as sales fell 11% below the levels of 2019.

Restaurants were the strongest performing segment of the market in January, recording 4% growth on January 2019, while pubs were up 2%. However, bars saw sales slip 3%, as the requirement for vaccination passes and lingering concerns around crowded venues dented late-night visits.

Continuing the pattern of recent months, trading was significantly weaker in London than elsewhere in Britain. Sales beyond the M25 were up by 6% on January 2019, but they dipped 8% within it, with office workers and tourists slow to return to the capital.

Karl Chessell, director for hospitality operators and food, EMEA at CGA, said: “After a bleak December for managed groups, January brought a reasonable revival. Growth for restaurants was particularly encouraging, and the challenging London and late-night markets should hopefully pick up as people return to offices as Covid-19 restrictions wind down.

“However, it’s important to note that sales growth remains below inflation. With some businesses vulnerable after a tough end to 2021, and consumers facing mounting costs of living, hospitality’s road to recovery still has a long way to run.”

While not enough to make up for two years’ worth of losses, the results offer much-needed signs of encouraging recovery for the on-trade, which has been one of the most affected sectors in the UK as a result of the pandemic.

Data from Lumina Intelligence offers perhaps more sure-footed optimism. According to its newest report, the UK restaurant market is set to recover 94% of its 2019 value in 2022. Unrestricted trading will be the main market driver in 2022, the report said, though continued outlet decline (-2.1%) will slow some recovery. Operators still managed to achieve growth of +£2.3 billion to 59% of 2019 value in 2021, despite restrictions, staff shortages and consumer risk aversion.

Analysts are optimistic that January’s uplift will continue.

“January saw steady improvement throughout after a slow start,” Mark Sheehan, MD at Coffer Corporate Leisure, said. “It was only on 25 January that the government stopped guidance to work from home where possible. As working habits return closer to normal, we expect to see eating and drinking out to rebound steadily. London and other city centres are seeing very good numbers. There is cautious optimism for the sector.”