It has been an incredibly tough 12 months in hospitality, with nearly 7,600 net closures of licensed premises witnessed across Britain since the first lockdown began in March 2020. January and February alone this year have been particularly brutal, with more than 2,700 net losses in the hospitality industry.
For those that have survived thus far, attention turns to the reopening roadmap, beginning with outdoor-only trading from 12 April in England, 22 April in Wales and 26 April in Scotland.
Our latest edition of the Market Recovery Monitor shows that 41,100 (or 38.2%) of sites in Britain have designated outdoor areas – gardens, terraces or other areas including car park spaces – that could be used to kick-start recovery from next month onwards.
Geographically, the South West leads the way for reopening viability, with 51.1% of sites having outdoor spaces, closely followed by the South and South East, Central and Eastern regions at 44.6%, 43.1% and 42.5% respectively. Yorkshire, the North East, Lancashire and London sit within the 30-40% band for potential reopenings in April, while just 22.9% of Scottish sites can consider trading again at the end of next month.
We have seen a spate of operators announce plans to reopen for outdoor service, and while it’s unlikely to be profitable for the majority to do so, there’s no doubt that businesses will do all they can to maximise their usable space.
Pubs, which were arguably hit harder than many businesses by the latest lockdown, are better placed than restaurants to benefit from outdoor openings. By segment, food pubs and community pubs in England have the highest outdoor area percentage at 86.4% and 80.5%, while casual dining restaurants at just over 10% and other restaurants at 7%, will need to continue to demonstrate the agility and resourcefulness that we saw during lockdown periods, when many ran successful delivery and takeaway services, ahead of the relaxation of further trading restrictions in the summer.
For those that do reopen, managing cash flow will now be of critical importance as work with supply chains begins again, and relationships with suppliers, landlords and other stakeholders will be tested.
The pandemic has forced many businesses to adapt and does offer the potential to drive stronger and more efficient operations on the other side, but many in the sector will be weighed down by debt for some time to come and will spend the next year and beyond rebuilding their balance sheets and clearing their arrears.
The overhang of rent liabilities also remains largely unresolved, which means that, in spite of the clear pent-up consumer demand that exists, the hospitality sector is far from out of the woods.