Loungers chairman: Hospitality is not all ‘doom and gloom'

12 July 2023 by
Loungers chairman: Hospitality is not all ‘doom and gloom'

The hospitality industry needs to highlight positive stories from across the sector rather than giving the impression it is all "doom and gloom", the chairman of Loungers has said.

Alex Reilley, who leads the bar and restaurant group, said there were "countless" businesses that were expanding in a challenging trading environment.

"Whilst highlighting the issues the sector continues to face and seeking more government support is understandable, it concerns me that hospitality is now viewed as a sector that is still very much on life-support," he wrote in Loungers' results.

"Clearly it is very challenging at the moment, particularly for smaller independent businesses in our sector who have been hit by outrageous and unsustainable energy costs. But surely, we need to start to provide some balance to the way the sector portrays itself, because it is simply not accurate to characterise it as being all doom and gloom."

Reilley's comments came as Loungers reported bumper earnings of £47.3m for the year to 16 April, up 66% on 2019. Revenue hit £283.5m, a 19% increase on 2022 levels.

The group, which runs over 200 sites across the Cosy Club, Lounge and Brightside brands, opened 29 new bars and restaurants over the past year and said it had identified potential for "at least" another 600 sites.

"There are countless other hospitality businesses that are growing, investing, creating jobs, building their brands, and being ambitious," said Reilley.

"A lot of these businesses, almost all of which are privately owned, are not making the same mistakes as others, because they have learnt from them, and instead of pausing their innovation and evolution post-pandemic they have accelerated it."

He added that investors needed to start hearing a "more up-to-date" message from the industry and that there was still growth in casual dining brands and leisure and retail park locations.

"Just because a number of over-leveraged casual dining brands have failed over the last few years doesn't mean that casual dining is totally broken.

"Indeed, most of the growth and innovation in the sector is currently in casual dining. Likewise, just because certain high-profile operators are reducing their leisure/retail park estates doesn't mean that these types of locations are absolutely off-limits.

"Indeed, some of our best performing Lounge sites are in exactly the locations that sector commentators seem to have condemned."

Loungers is also targeting growth in roadside locations and this year launched its Brightside brand, which the group hopes could recreate the early success of the Little Chef restaurant chain.

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