Keep going to pubs during dry January, UK hospitality bosses urge
Leading figures say industry will struggle if people don’t support hospitality and stay away, with pubs ‘about so much more than having a drink’
Hospitality bosses have urged consumers to support hospitality this month and to ditch “dry January”, the month when many people abstain from alcohol, as hard-hit venues struggle to recover from a nightmare Christmas.
Takings over the crucial festive weeks have fallen by as much as 60% compared with the same period in 2019, making this the second year in a row that pubs, bars and restaurants have lost out during the most lucrative time of the year.
The slump means venues have not built up the cash reserves they need to survive the typically quiet January and February, piling pressure on a sector already reeling from pandemic-related losses and ballooning rent debts.
Several leading figures in the hospitality industry told the Guardian that pubs would fall into even greater financial difficulty unless people kept visiting them during January, the annual month when some people choose to stop drinking.
Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of the trade body UK Hospitality, said: “I think we could definitely dispense with it [dry January].”
She called on people who are trying to avoid alcohol to consider choosing something else at the bar or going out for food to support hospitality.
“This year, there are an awful lot more non-alcoholic options available that are really good quality, so there’s no excuse not to go out and support your local hospitality business.”
Greg Mulholland, the Campaign for Pubs director, said: “Pubs and publicans will need support throughout January and we’d urge people to continue to go to the pub.
“The pub is about so much more than having a drink, so we hope people recognise the important role pubs play in our communities and get out and support them, whatever they choose to drink and eat.”
He also stressed the improved availability of non-alcoholic options in the UK’s network of pubs, the number of which has been in decline in recent years and currently stands at about 47,000.
Concern about alcohol intake has increased during the pandemic, following a Public Health England report that detailed a rise in problem-drinking deaths associated with successive lockdowns.
However, the report found that the steepest rise in alcohol sales came from people drinking at home during lockdowns that forced hospitality venues to close.
Paul Crossman, who runs three pubs in York including The Swan, said it was still possible for people to order at the bar without compromising their health goals.
“It would be much appreciated if people did forego dry January, but loads of us have really good alcohol-free options too. It’s about supporting local hospitality businesses so that they can get through it,” he said.
The pub group Fuller’s was forced to close several venues earlier this month as a result of slow trade, partly because its portfolio of more than 380 pubs and inns is weighted towards London, where cases of the Omicron Covid variant have soared and work-from-home guidance has left parts of the city deserted.
The chief executive of Fuller’s, Simon Emeny, said he hoped there would be “enormous pent-up demand” after people sacrificed pre-Christmas nights out to ensure they could still see family.
He pointed out that while the aims of dry January, promoted by Alcohol Change UK, are laudable, there is conflicting opinion about whether it’s the right approach to counteracting overindulgence.
“Medical evidence says that drinking in moderation is more sensible than abstaining for an entire month,” Emeny said.
“I do think that having been denied the opportunity to mix and socialise, a lot of people will say they’ll make up for lost time and be more sociable in January.”
While many pubs fear a downturn in January partly due to people choosing not to drink Peter Marks, who runs the UK’s largest bar and nightclub business Rekom UK, said young people were less likely to abstain.
“They’ll take a couple of weekends for their wallet to recover from Christmas and New Year, but as long as students come back in that third week of January, we never see any effect from dry January,” he said.
The original version of this article was first published on Hotel and Catering News
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