Belfast Telegraph

Pubs could be forced to call time as two thirds see trade tumble

By David Elliot

Difficult trading conditions mean around 120 pubs in Northern Ireland expect to close.

A survey by industry body Pubs of Ulster also revealed that about 210 pubs are looking to sell their businesses.

The sector's woes are said to be as a result of the economic downturn, stiff competition from supermarkets and the growing trend of drinking at home.

The survey found over two thirds of pubs have seen trade fall in the last year while a third have had to lay off staff. In addition, 62% have reduced staff hours.

More staff lay-offs are on the cards for 22% of pubs while over 50% expect to reduce staff hours.

Colin Neill, chief executive of Pubs of Ulster, said: "The findings from our survey unfortunately show the true state of the pub industry in 2011 and confirm what we and many publicans have feared - the industry is in serious trouble.

"Confidence in the current business performance of many pubs is extremely low with almost half of those surveyed only expecting an average performance over the next 12 months, if they survive until then at all."

But against this backdrop, he said diversification into food, coffee and entertainment is helping some pubs weather the storm.

One of Northern Ireland's largest pub groups, Botanic Inns, said a food offering has helped many of its pubs buck the trend.

Managing director Stephen Magorrian said Belfast city pubs have performed particularly well and reflect the resurgence of the city centre over the last few years.