Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Chart of the Day
21 December 2021

How Omicron has devastated the UK’s hospitality industry

Restaurants have lost more than a fifth of their customers and the sector may lose £4bn.

By Katharine Swindells

Rishi Sunak today announced a £1bn support fund for hospitality but data shows it will be no match for the huge losses that the hospitality sector is facing. 

Covid-19 levels in the UK are approaching 100,000 newly reported cases a day, and many people are choosing to “self-lock down” to reduce the risk of catching the virus before Christmas. Despite chief medical officer Chris Whitty actively encouraging people not to mix, Boris Johnson’s has delayed any decision on further official restrictions. 

The swathe of bookings cancellations and drop in demand is devastating for the hospitality industry, which disproportionately relies on Christmas (UKHospitality has estimated the cost to the sector will be £4bn). 

Data from Opentable, a platform that supports online bookings for restaurants, pubs, bars and events, reveals how damaging this “worst of all worlds” lockdown has been for restaurants and others in the hospitality industry.

Based on a representative sample of both booked and walk-in customers at UK restaurants, the data shows that in the second half of November, the number of people dining in London was up by more than 10 per cent compared to the same period in 2019. Revealing the strong sector recovery that has been seen over the past few months.

In early December, as concerns over the Omicron variant grew, weeknight restaurant visits began to fall, but weekends remained extremely strong, more than 20 per cent higher than in 2019, perhaps indicating that people were beginning to reduce social contact and saving restaurant visits for Christmas parties and special occasions.

But last week restaurants saw a sharp drop in customers, with daily diners more than 20 per cent below 2019 levels. Over the past weekend, despite it being the last before Christmas, the strong growth seen earlier in the month was significantly reduced.

Content from our partners
Transport is the core of levelling up
The forgotten crisis: How businesses can boost biodiversity
Small businesses can be the backbone of our national recovery

In fact, this data may well understate the problem as it reflects the national average and downplays the devastation on venues in London, where Omicron cases are the highest. The data also only covers restaurants, whereas people may be even less likely to go to pubs and venues where social distancing is more difficult.

Nick Mackenzie, the chief executive of the pub and brewery chain Greene King, which runs more than 2,700 pubs, restaurants and hotels across the UK, told the BBC that bookings had collapsed, with pubs in some parts of the country down 70 or 80 per cent on their 2019 levels.

A survey conducted over the weekend by the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), which represents pubs, bars and clubs, found that a third of venues fear they may close within a month if they do not receive urgent government support.

On average, the survey found each venue had missed out on £46,000 through lost sales and cancellations, meaning Sunak's promise of up to £6,000 per venue falls far short,

“It really is a chilling prospect to see so many venues in our sector left to bleed, with a lockdown in everything but name and absolutely no recognition of this from the government,” said Michael Kill, the chief executive of the NTIA. “These venues have faced over 20 months of financial hardship and the Christmas trade period was integral to keeping those surviving businesses afloat in the upcoming year.”

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.