Just two in five licensed premises will have some kind of space to trade from when the market reopens for outdoor service from 12 April, the latest edition of the Market Recovery Monitor from CGA and AlixPartners reveals.
It found around 41,100 premises in Britain had a garden, terrace, car park or other area in which they could potentially seat guests – just 38.2% of all sites. Numbers fluctuated between segments of the market, with four in five (80.5%) community pubs in England able to offer beer gardens, patios or other outside space, compared to just 11.9% of casual dining restaurants.
A significant number of these sites are unlikely to trade from mid-April because the limitations of their space and the costs of equipping and staffing them will make it impossible to trade profitably. This means the number of sites reopening will probably be much lower, especially if the weather is poor.
Scope for outside trading also varied substantially by region. In the largely rural south-west of England, just over half (51.1%) of sites had outdoor space, but the number was below a third in London (33.1%). In Wales, two in five (42.1%) sites had outdoor space. But in Scotland, where venues may open outdoors from 26 April, fewer than a quarter (22.9%) had that capability.
Karl Chessell, CGA's business unit director for hospitality operators and food, EMEA, pointed out that well over half of licensed premises had no space at all in which to trade, "though they could yet reopen in April if local authorities take a proactive approach and open up street space to serve on".
The Monitor also found that five big regional hubs – Bristol, Liverpool, Nottingham, Edinburgh and Sheffield – had all lost fewer than 3% of their licensed premises since March 2020, while many smaller cities including Plymouth, Aberdeen, Worcester, Exeter and Swansea had all lost more than 10%.
This suggested that the UK's largest cities may be better placed than smaller cities and towns to rebound over the remainder of 2021, despite the collapse in footfall from office workers and tourists over the last year. Some larger operators have retreated from smaller regional cities in recent months, while banking on a swift return to major centres for work, retail and leisure.
Graeme Smith, AlixPartners' managing director, said managing cashflow will be of "critical importance" for those that do reopen next month and relationships with suppliers, landlords and other stakeholders will be tested.
He added: "There is potential to drive stronger and more efficient operations on the other side of the pandemic, but many in the sector will be weighed down by debt for some time to come and will spend the next year and beyond rebuilding their balance sheets and clearing their arrears. The overhang of rent liabilities also remains largely unresolved which means that, in spite of the clear pent-up consumer demand that exists, the hospitality sector is far from out of the woods."