‘Impossible’ to trade profitably outdoors in April warn pub bosses amid road map

Henry Saker-Clark, PA City Reporter

Pub chiefs have warned that it will be “very difficult, if not impossible” to trade profitably when sites can open in April due to outside restrictions but said the Prime Minister has given the sector “hope”.

Pub, restaurants and other hospitality operators will be able to serve customers outside from April 12 at the earliest, Boris Johnson said on Monday.

He also told MPs that shops, hairdressers, nail salons, libraries, outdoor attractions could also reopen from this date in the second phase of his “road map” out of restrictions.

From May 17 at the earliest, two households or a group of six will be able to meet indoors in a pub or hospitality venue.

All restrictions on social contact could be relaxed by June 21, allowing nightclubs to reopen.

Shepherd Neame financials
Shepherd Neame’s chief executive, Jonathan Neame (Shepherd Neame/PA)

Jonathan Neame, chief executive of Shepherd Neame pub group, warned that large portion of its estate of more-than-300 pubs will stay shut through April but was optimistic about the long-term prospects of the Government’s update.

He told PA: “With the April measures, we can open between a third and a half of our pubs, which obviously is not ideal.

“It will be very difficult, if not impossible, for pubs to be profitable like that but is still progress.

“As a whole, I think it was better than I expected because I didn’t expect them to say the restrictions could essentially come down completely by June.

“That is really good news.”

He added that the sector still needs financial backing from the Chancellor in order to ensure it can recover in 2021.

“All eyes will now be on the Chancellor,” he said.

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(PA Graphics)

“We can only be positive about this, about a strong summer, if we have an extension to 5% VAT rate on food and the rates holiday is extended too.

“Even if we reopen as planned it will still be tough and there are pubs in city centres which could struggle until at least September so we still need proper financial backing.”

Clive Watson, founder and executive chairman of City Pub Group told the PA news agency that the announcement was better than expected.

The Roundhouse pub
City Pub Group has closed all 48 of its pubs due to lockdown restrictions (City Pub Group/PA)

“We have been given hope today and now we have to believe that the budget will give us some certainty so we can rebuild”, he said.

“April would have been preferable for indoor opening but we understand the caution and are now at least in a position where we can now plan.

“It was better than I expected to be perfectly honest and am particularly glad that they’ve canned the nonsense about scotch eggs and curfews.”

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the UKHospitality trade group said a major financial package is “imperative” for the survival of hospitality.

She added: “The sector is obviously devastated that its reopening will be so far away.

“From the start of November, the sector will have been closed for nearly 200 days, with just a couple of weeks of heavily restricted trading in December.”

The Litten Tree pub in Coventry (Jacob King/PA)
The Litten Tree pub in Coventry (Jacob King/PA)

Kirsty Ridge, managing director of Cumbria-based Lakeland Inns, said: “We had prepared for the worst and hoped for the best.

“I think we’ve ended up somewhere in between.

“Our regulars in the various communities we serve will fully expect that we are open for business outdoors from April 12 and we will now be working towards that.

“Of course we are all looking forward to the day when pubs can open properly once more, and May 17 will be a huge milestone on that journey.

“Until then we will meticulously plan so that every measure we need to put in place is dealt with and our venues are as safe as they can be.”

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