The leaders of Britain's pub and restaurant groups have reported their lowest levels of business confidence for two years, amid fears about the long-term impact of Brexit.
That's according to the latest quarterly Business Confidence Survey from consultancy CGA, in association with hospitality technology specialist Fourth.
The survey found that fewer than a third (30%) of industry bosses are currently optimistic about prospects for the general market. The figure represented a fall of nine percentage points on the last survey three months ago and was the lowest since November 2017.
Meanwhile, operators' confidence in their own business slid by seven percentage points, with a little more than half (58%) of leaders now declaring themselves optimistic about their company's prospects in the next 12 months.
The Business Confidence Survey pinpointed Brexit as the overwhelming source of pessimism. Although 44% said uncertainty around Brexit was their leading concern, more (52%) cited the potential consequences of departure as their biggest worry.
Meanwhile, three-quarters (74%) of leaders said they were concerned about increased food costs, and nearly as many were worried about increased labour costs (72%) and a fall in consumer confidence (67%).
The results chime with those featured in The Caterer's own research into sentiment in hospitality, which found that independent restaurateurs were the least optimistic of all hospitality sectors, with foodservice operators seeing the brightest future.
CGA group chief executive Phil Tate said: "This is a sober message to the government from the country's pub, bar and restaurant operators. It is clear that the long-term consequences of Brexit are front of mind in the industry at the moment, and leaders don't regard this as simply a short-term problem. There is an urgent need for clarity around Brexit's impact in areas like imports and the labour market, and this sector deserves support that reflects its enormous contribution to the UK's economy."
Ben Hood, chief executive of Fourth, said: "In an industry known for its positivity, energy and a can-do-will-do culture, our latest leaders' survey is telling. Brexit, and the prevailing uncertainty, is clearly and understandably weighing on the sector. Against the spectre of a ‘No Deal' exit, hospitality operators desperately need certainty over the future shape of supply, trading and immigration arrangements with the EU. With consumer confidence starting to tick down as well, these findings should sound the alarm in Westminster that Britain's resilient, dynamic and world-class hospitality sector needs government to deliver clarity and a workable departure that protects our best interests."