City centre pubs enjoy boost from office workers but job shortages bite

Three major pub groups have said they are all experiencing an uptick in sales since the easing of lockdown restrictions in July, especially in city centres as workers return to offices.

Fuller’s said sales in the seven weeks to September 18 are now at 86% of levels seen before the pandemic and City Pub Group revealed sales are at 90% of 2019 levels since indoor service was resumed in May.

Mitchells and Butlers said sales in the last eight weeks have now overtaken pre-pandemic levels on a like-for-like basis.

But despite promising signs of recovery, pubs continue to struggle with recruitment, as job vacancies in the sector remain high.

City Pub Group executive chairman Clive Watson is now calling on the Government to introduce temporary worker visas to plug the gaps.

He said: “It would seem sensible for, and we call upon the Government to, introduce a two to three-year working visa to European nationals so that people can come to the UK, work, study and return home extolling the virtues of the British pub.

“This, we believe, will also encourage much-needed tourism, which is essential in helping our sector to get back on its feet.”

The boss explained the sector has suffered from workers in the sector during Covid going back to the EU and not returning.

He added that July and August proved difficult due to the so-called “pingdemic” but he remained hopeful that more people will turn to jobs in pubs and bars when the furlough scheme ends and students return to universities, looking for part-time jobs.

Fuller’s boss Simon Emeny said his business was not immune to the well-documented challenges facing the wider hospitality industry.

But he added the group’s rural estate of pubs and hotels had benefited from the domestic holiday boom.

Pubs enjoyed improving sales during the summer as restrictions eased (Fullers/PA)
Pubs enjoyed improving sales during the summer as restrictions eased (Fullers/PA)

He also said office workers were helping the recovery, adding: “We are now beginning to see a return of customers to our central London pubs, which is a great sign as we head into a busy trading period.”

Over at Mitchells & Butlers, chief executive Phil Urban said pubs that serve food continue to perform better than “wet led” pubs.

He added he was “encouraged by the improvement in sales performance following the easing of restrictions”.

The company added sales so far this year, including the 18-week closure due to lockdowns, are at 45% of pre-Covid levels.

City Pub Group also revealed its results for the six months to June 27, with sales of £8.9 million during the period – a drop from £12.1 million in the same period a year ago.

Pre-tax losses fell from £4.2 million to £1.6 million.