The latest figures from UKHospitality have shown that restaurants, bars and pubs in the UK lost an average of more than £10,000 in the week leading up to Christmas 2021. Takings for Christmas Day itself were also 60% lower than they were in 2019. Why? One word – Omicron.
However, with the end of Plan B restrictions on the horizon and reports suggesting the public are now willing to venture out and spend their cash at pubs and restaurants again, could this be the start of a return to normality for hospitality? We certainly think so, but businesses still need to modernise to boost sales and remain flexible in the face of ongoing challenges.
Here, we take a look at the impact this highly infectious Covid variant had on the hospitality industry and how the sector can build sales and handle supply and staffing issues as we make a fresh start in 2022.
The Omicron effect
During late November, things were looking very positive for dining and drinking establishments across the country. UKHospitality figures show that sales had reached almost 98% of pre-pandemic levels in the weeks leading up to Omicron arriving on our shores.
And within days of this happening, people started staying at home more and cancelling Christmas parties and get-togethers with friends. Then, work from home orders eventually given by the government really put the nail in the coffin for bars, pubs and restaurants.
Despite taking place over a month or so, the process seemed like a slow burn. This time, it was the public and businesses calling the shots. More and more Christmas meals and parties were cancelled as, like a domino effect, pressure mounted to avoid gathering in large groups at hospitality venues.
The government stated that businesses could still have their Christmas parties, but simultaneously voiced caution about unnecessary mixing and working in offices. The result was some serious mixed messaging that instilled little confidence among the public and their employers. So the cancellations kept rolling in…
Then, as December progressed, it was clear Omicron wasn’t going to quit until it had infected millions of people. Anyone with the virus had to isolate for between 7 and 10 days and the unvaccinated needed to stay at home even if they were simply in close contact with someone with Covid. This decimated staff numbers throughout the festive season.
The result of all of this was a second ruined Christmas and New Year for an already beleaguered industry. The CEO of UKHospitality, Kate Nicholls, commented: “UK hospitality businesses have been hit hard during a key trading period – and this is after missing out on the crucial Christmas and New Year sales last year.”
The industry body is now calling for the government to maintain the lower VAT rate currently in place for the industry, rather than returning to a rate of 20% come April, as planned.
When it comes to Christmas parties, better late than never!
Now, reports are coming in thick and fast that customers are rushing back to pubs, bars and restaurants to make up for lost time. In some cases, they are rebooking their Christmas parties that were cancelled back in December. In short, takings improved in January.
Pub operators are reporting a rise in bookings as consumers make up for pent-up demand for get-togethers and much-missed Christmas and New Year festivities. As well as this demand for postponed parties, the industry is also now celebrating removal of Plan B restrictions, which have included widespread mask-wearing and work-from-home instructions.
Some challenges remain
Although the isolation period for those testing positive for Covid has been reduced to 5 days for anyone who is testing negative on days 4 and 5, staffing issues still remain. Business owners are reporting a shortage of workers and difficulties in planning rotas and menus, for example.
Staff shortages throughout the supply chain can impact menu planning, for example. From growers and pickers to delivery drivers and kitchen staff, if there’s a missing link in that chain, a restaurant struggles to offer its entire menu.
Leslie’s clever digital menu technology arms our customers with the ability to adapt their menus at the drop of a hat. For business owners running eateries, this has been a vital tool in their arsenal while facing the current challenges.
For our customers, flexibility is everything and our QR-code based table ordering tech has helped hundreds of restaurant owners stay afloat by removing the hassle involved with changing menus. With Leslie, there’s no ordering or reprinting needed. Just access your menu back-end and make the changes there. They’ll appear on your menu right away and your kitchen staff can stop stressing!
Sales Sales Sales!
If you’re suddenly experiencing an increase in customer numbers, this is certainly something to celebrate. After all, as the threat of severe illness from Covid-19 starts to reduce, we’re likely to see pubs and bars regularly at full capacity again, hurrah!.
Leslie customers find that their average order value increases by around 30% after they install our system. Stylish, bespoke menus, upselling tools and repeat ordering capabilities are built into Leslie and all these factors encourage diners to order freely. Another round? That’s no problem with Leslie.
Now that the Nightmare Before Christmas (our name for December 2021!) is officially behind us, we can start to get our businesses back on track. But the pandemic has taught business owners to be on the constant lookout for the next thing (let’s face it, usually tech-based) that can make life easier and help grow a business. And this year, that’s Leslie.