Drinkers are returning to watering holes in greater numbers than predicted, according to the boss of one of the country’s largest pub chains.
Shepherd Neame chief executive Jonathan Neame said that the brewer reopened more than 200 pubs from last Monday, around two thirds of its total.
“Many customers have returned to our pubs in the first week to enjoy great hospitality in a relaxed and safe environment. Although it is early days, trade levels so far have been above expectation,” Mr Neame said.
By the time all Shepherd Neame’s pubs reopen indoors in less than a month from now, according to the Government’s current road map, they will have been shut for 297 out of the last 423 days.
“Inevitably this has had a severe impact on our numbers during this time,” the chief executive said.
As a result, the company swung to a £7.2 million pre-tax loss in the last six months of 2020. It had made a £5.4 million profit a year earlier.
Turnover in the same period dropped 30% to £55.3 million.
The period included the summer reopening, including the Eat Out To Help Out scheme in August, which helped boost dining establishments.
Shepherd Neame was able to stave off some problems by increasing sales of bottled beer from its brewery by more than a quarter.
That way, and by controlling costs, it was able to restrict the amount of cash it was burning through each month when pubs were closed from £2 million to £1.5 million.
The company also claimed £5.7 million in Government support, including the furlough scheme, business grants and business rates relief.
However, trading has been encouraging since reopening, and like pubs across the country, Shepherd Neame hopes it can tap into a market full of pubgoers who have not been able to visit their local for several months.
“There is significant pent-up demand in the economy. The consumer savings ratio is at high levels, and all indications are that the demand for events, for festivals, for live sport, for going out for a meal and for socialising with friends is as strong as ever,” Mr Neame said.
“Furthermore, with the ongoing restrictions in place on international travel, most people will choose to holiday in the UK this year. As a result, we believe that our recovery will be strong through late summer and autumn 2021.”