One in 10 UK restaurants lost to the pandemic with independents hit hardest

People eat and drink while sitting at tables outside a restaurant at lunchtime in the City of London on April 29, 2021. - Britain has been the European country worst-hit by the virus, recording more than 127,000 deaths, although it rolled out a succesful mass-vaccination campaign in early December, using AstraZeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)

Just a third of sites restarted trading in the first phase of the UK’s reopening of hospitality. Photo: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP via Getty Images

Almost 10% of UK restaurants have failed to reopen their doors by the end of April, as the British high street continues to reel from the impact of coronavirus lockdowns. 

Even as venues with outdoor dining and drinking areas were allowed to reopen in accordance with the government roadmap, the number of food-led venues dipped by 4,204, according to the CGA AlixPartners Market Recovery Monitor. 

The data also showed that by the end of April 2021, just under a third (32.9%) of Britain’s pubs, bars, restaurants and other licensed premises had begun to trade again for the first time since the start of the last national lockdown — a total of just over 35,000 venues.

Pubs generally returned in greater numbers than restaurants. In the first few weeks of trading in England, many pubs with decent outdoor space reported overwhelming demand for tables and buoyant sales as drinkers celebrated the chance to get back out again and the sun shone. 

Trading numbers for bars (30.2%) and bar restaurants (39.1%) were higher than anticipated thanks to the freeing up of extra pavement space. 

With indoor service resuming from Monday 17 May, the majority of the two thirds (67.1%) of venues that had not reopened by the end of April will now have the option to do so — though nightclubs are still not able to return. 

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The pattern of re-openings in April reveals a major head start for managed operators over independent businesses, the monitor found.  

The data shows that just over half (52.4%) of all managed sites in Britain were able to trade by the end of April — more than twice the number of independents (24.0%). In the leased sector, the figure was 44.8%. 

The gulf in re-openings reflects the generally larger footprint of managed sites and the greater proportion of outdoor space. It may also be a result of groups’ coordinated planning for outside trading, especially on staffing and stocking. 

Many independents will have decided that the vagaries of the weather made reopening too risky, holding on instead for the return of indoor service in England and Wales.

“The progression to indoor reopening marks an important moment for hospitality and some welcome light at the end of what’s been a long, dark tunnel,” said Graeme Smith, managing director, AlixPartners. 

“Profitability in the sector remains a concern, however, and there is a bumpy road to recovery ahead. While some operators’ creative use of outdoor space served them relatively well over the past month, the large majority were unable to welcome back any guests or chose to remain closed.”

Smith notes that the big test will be the next stage of lockdown easing on Monday. 

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