JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin has said the changing local and national restrictions are "baffling and confusing" in the company's first quarter trading update.
For the 15 weeks to 8 November 2020, the pub group saw like-for-like sales decrease by 27.6%. It said sales in October were ‘significantly lower' than the previous months, following the imposition of restrictions including changes in the tier categories, the 10pm curfew, a requirement to order all food and drink ‘at the table', and the mandatory use of face masks when moving around inside pubs.
Of the group's estate, 756 pubs in England, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are closed, with 64 trading pubs in Scotland and 51 in Wales. However, the tier system in Scotland is said to be having a ‘serious effect' on trade.
The company undertook a share placing in April that raised £137.m and £48.3m was raised through a CBILS loan in August. JD Wetherspoon had £234m of liquidity on 25 October.
Martin said: "For any pub or restaurant company trading in different parts of the UK, and for customers generally, the constantly changing national and local regulations, combined with geographical areas moving from one tier to another in the different jurisdictions, are baffling and confusing. The entire regulatory situation is a complete muddle. However, the initial regulations, following reopening, introduced on 4 July, were carefully thought through, followed thorough consultation, and were based on solid scientific foundations of social distancing and hygiene. The benefits of the regulatory hyperactivity since then, including the imposition of a curfew, are questionable.
"A particular anxiety in the hospitality industry relates to the future timescale for the ending of "temporary" regulations. Veterans of the industry will recall that the afternoon closing of pubs between about 3pm and 6pm was imposed in the First World War, to encourage munitions workers to return to their factories – but the requirement for afternoon closing was only abolished in 1986."