The boss of City Pub Group has said the return of office workers “will be a much needed boost” to the hospitality sector as he also warned that cost increases will lead to higher prices for customers.
Clive Watson, chief executive of the pub group, told the PA news agency that it has been “coming through the worst of it” in recent weeks after December trade was hit hard by the spread of Omicron variant of Covid-19.
The company, which runs around 50 pubs, predominantly in London and the south of England, said December “began well” but eventually saw trade at 85% of pre-pandemic levels after “most office party bookings were cancelled”.
However, it added that strong sales in October and November offset the impact of the weaker performance last month.
The group said that January saw a slow month following Omicron caution but highlighted a “significant increase in trade” over the past 10 days.
Mr Watson said: “We obviously did not start the year in quite the place we would have hoped a month earlier but we’ve seen positive signs in the past week or two.
“It will take a bit of time before we get back to the levels we saw in October or November but hopefully will be there by the end of February at least.
“We are massively positive about losing the Plan B restrictions and particularly the change regarding working from home.
“The return of office workers will be a much needed boost and gives us plenty of encouragement.”
The pub group boss also warned that price increases for food and drink were “inevitable” amid a surge in the firm’s energy bills and other cost rises.
City Pub added that it witnessed a rise in Covid-related absences in December and the start of January due to the spread of Omicron but has recently seen this improve.
Separately, bar group Revolution told shareholders on Thursday that it also saw a downturn in custom in December due to the work from home guidance, vaccine certification in clubs and “government messaging which unhelpfully encouraged the limiting of social interactions”.
It said it particularly felt this impact with the cancellation of office parties, with a 39% drop in pre-booked revenue over the six weeks to January 1.
However, it added that “many” of the cancelled corporate bookings have been moved to early in 2022.
The group reported that total sales for the six months to January 1 were 1.4% higher than the same period two years earlier.
Rob Pitcher, chief executive officer of Revolution Bars Group, said: “I am so proud of our team’s resilience in the face of the confusing government messaging and the disappointment of the wave of corporate booking cancellations it caused during December.
“The only comfort is that many of these parties have already been rebooked and it was pleasing to see the number of general guest bookings significantly up versus 2019 demonstrating that our young guest base remains as enthused and excited about our offering as we are.
“Yesterday’s news of the scrapping of the work from home guidance and the cancellation of all other restrictions is very welcome for our business and will actively help rebuild consumer confidence.”