Iain Hoskins speaks on the impact of Omicron
Iain Hoskins, Ma Pub Group with Ma Boyle’s Eatery & Alehouse and Tempest on Tithebarn, Liverpool:
“I’ve found since the start of pandemic there is a massive cause and effect from any government directive, be it advisory or a legally enforced restriction, with our customers. As soon as it’s said there’s a huge shift in how consumers operate – and it’s sudden and brutal.
“We spent so much time and effort in the build up to this Christmas. It was imperative to maximise this period. Anyone in the industry will tell you how labour intensive it is when dealing with a season of people planning all types of parties and sit-down meals; each one is different and often you can be dealing with one large booking between 20 and 30 times to make sure all the details for their party are right. It’s a huge amount of work. We threw everything at it this year, making sure we fully maximised the season, doubling marketing budgets and staff involved with both our Liverpool venues. It’s essential for our survival.
“The first government advice on the new variant nearly two weeks ago had an immediate impact on Christmas party bookings and table reservations. In terms of corporate clients, they were telling us that Christmas parties were not a good look for them and despite what the government said, how could they ask staff to work from home but then bring them back to mix in a very much non-socially distant Christmas party? So even for the parties which have gone ahead, the numbers have been often 50% of what was predicted. There’s also a feeling that for a significant proportion of people just don’t want to take the risk and would rather sacrifice a Christmas social occasion rather than risk getting sick or jeopardising Christmas Day with their family. This is the impact of the messaging around Omicron. A rough estimate so far is a loss of about £50k of bookings across both our sites within 10 days and that feels like it’s only the start.
“What I’ve mentioned above is consumer confidence based on zero actual restrictions and just public health advice. I dread to think what will happen if restrictions are brought in. Our locations are based in the business district of Liverpool so we are very sensitive to changes in working patterns, and certainly we were only just starting to see normal daytime footfall return last month.
“We are also dealing with the issue again of staff being off for self-isolation for track and trace – so the times we are busy are so incredibly challenging as we have had key members of staff off waiting for their PCR test to come back because they may have been in contact with someone with Covid.
“January and February trading is incredibly difficult in the best of times – and are only normally offset against a good Christmas. This coming April we be hit with raft of further increases from VAT, minimum wage and NI increases. Most operators are really surviving on a knife edge at the moment – Bounce Back loans are now payable – and it feels like we are back to square one again but saddled with a huge amount of extra debt. During the first lockdown I had to let go of two of our sites in order to give the other sites the best possible chance of survival.
“More government assistance is essential now if we are to make it through this next stage of the pandemic.”