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'Pub drinker numbers plummeted 14 per cent before Christmas'

Pub drinker numbers plummeted 14 per cent in run-up to Christmas due to Omicron fears says All Bar One and Toby Carvery owner

  • Omicron fears led to fewer drinkers, says owner of All Bar One and Toby Carvery
  • Phil Urban, boss of the pub group, said business saw reduced customer activity
  • Strong performance in last quarter dipped near Christmas due to virus concerns

All Bar One and Toby Carvery owner Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) has said fears over the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 led to few drinkers in pubs in the run up to Christmas.

Phil Urban, boss of the pub and bar group, said the business saw reduced customer activity and ‘disruption caused by the inevitable isolation of team members’ due to soaring virus cases last month.

The company told shareholders it had seen an ‘encouraging’ performance for most of the latest quarter, but lost its strong momentum towards Christmas and New Year due to the public’s concerns over the rapid spread of the virus. 

M&B, which also owns the Harvester chain, said it is also facing a surge in costs due to higher wages and soaring energy costs.

The hospitality firm said it expects to face between £60 million and £65 million higher costs than typical pre-pandemic levels due to the inflation pressures. 

Owners of pub chain All Bar One (pictured) says fears over the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 led to few drinkers in the run up to Christmas

Mr Urban, chief executive of M&B, said: ‘This first quarter performance represents a robust performance given the challenges the industry faces from the rapid spread of the new variant both in terms of reduced consumer activity and disruption caused by the inevitable isolation of team members.

‘Experience shows that as restrictions ease, and confidence returns, our business is able to swiftly recover.

‘To that end, whilst we expect activity to continue to be adversely impacted in the short term, we are encouraged by the latest data on the Omicron variant which we believe will boost consumers’ confidence to return to pubs and restaurants allowing us to regain the momentum which was beginning to build, supported by the benefits from our new set of Ignite initiatives.’  

In the 15 weeks leading to January 8, like-for-like sales dropped 1.5% against the same period in 2019.  A reduction in drinks sales was largely offset by extra purchases for food. 

The company said that growth at the start of the period was let down by the final four weeks around Christmas and New Year, where like-for-like sales plunged by 10.2%. Recent drink sales fell sharply by 13.8% over the past seven weeks.

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