Hospitality operators cautious about vaccine developments, as they brace for a January lockdown

hospitality operators

This week, the UK became the first country to approve Pfizer’s new coronavirus vaccine, with roll-out having started on Tuesday and some form of normality expected by Spring. Good news, right? While the end may seem nearer, there are many more hurdles left to jump, particularly for a hospitality industry that has faced the harshest restrictions possible throughout.

Will Christmas result in stricter measures come January? How are operators in tier 2 managing the existing measures? Have recent vaccine developments inspired optimism amongst hospitality operators?  Through our weekly Hospitality Leaders Poll, in partnership with Big Hospitality, MCA News and Morning Advertiser, we asked 208 board level operators running pubs, restaurants and food to go operations. Here’s what they had to say…

Operators unclear on the meaning of ‘substantial’

Last week, it was announced that hospitality businesses operating within a tier 2 are could remain open, as long as they offered a substantial meal. The ambiguity of ‘substantial meal’ caused mass debate. With lockdown now over and the three-tier structure in effect, it seems many operators are still none the wiser, as to what a ‘substantial meal’ is.

While over half say they have a clear understanding, 44% of hospitality operators are unclear or do not know the meaning of ‘substantial meal’. Without clear guidance, hospitality operators will continue to be left in the dark, and potentially at risk to fines and enforcement if, what they are offering is not deemed ‘substantial’.

Three quarters do not expect tier to change on 16 December

With the three-tier system back in place, all eyes turn to December 16, the earliest point at which the government is set to review the numbers and adjust the tiers where necessary. However, 77% of operators do not expect their tier to change regardless of any change in the infection rates in their area.

This would be another significant blow to many hospitality operators who are forced to close in tier 2 or, due to the extent of the restrictions, see opening as unviable. In an article last week, we highlighted that 56% of operators see their operations as not be viable under tier two restrictions.

January lockdown approaching?

As one lockdown ends, another approaches? Worryingly, hospitality operators are bracing themselves for a January lockdown. When asked, 67% expect to be in a tier-3 style lockdown in January. With Downing Street tightening restrictions following the November lockdown, ahead of easing them for Christmas, there is clear concern that this easing will result in tighter restrictions in the new year.

Without sufficient support, this could be the nail in the coffin for many hospitality businesses, who have seen sales and footfall, during the busiest time of year, plummet. This uncertainty is having a significant impact across the supply chain, with wholesalers and manufacturers unable to forward plan, which could result in over/under supply. More so than ever, our hospitality industry is looking for clarity on the strategy to tackle to pandemic between now and a vaccine being widely available. Without such a plan, operators, manufacturers and wholesalers are left second guessing their short term trading conditions , which is resulting in further pessimism towards the future. Versus last week, there has been a 5pp increase in the proportion of hospitality operators that not confident about the future of their business.

The end isn’t in sight for four-in-ten

Will we see some form of normality resume in Spring? According to government sources, there is a strong chance of this happening. However, it is understandable that an industry that feels betrayed by the government after yo-yoing between opening and closing, alongside a plethora of restrictions, is not willing to get its hopes up. Just 8% of operators are very confident that things could be back to some sort of normality by Spring and, whilst 52% are a bit confident, 31% are not particularly confident and 9% are not confident at all.

Time will tell how things will play out, but it is clear that hospitality operators are braced for choppy waters over the coming months. Our Hospitality Polls surveys board level operators running pubs, restaurants and food to go operations across the UK.

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