Pubs group pins hopes on staycationers as tier 2 status curbs recovery

Adnams properties director Nick Attfield faces the headache of steering the pub group's 44 pubs through tier 2 restrictions ...

Adnams properties director Nick Attfield faces the headache of steering the pub group's 44 pubs through tier 2 restrictions Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Pub owner Adnams is expecting its Christmas trade to take a “real hammering” as coronavirus restrictions continue to take their toll on the hospitality trade.

The pub industry is bracing itself for a dire end of year after health secretary Matt Hancock imposed tier 2 and 3 restrictions over England. While tier 3 means complete lockdown for the industry, tier 2 means that food-led pubs can open — provided they adhere to strict protocols.

But while turnover has undoubtedly taken a big hit — particularly across two lockdown periods — staycationers have provided an unexpected silver lining to an otherwise difficult year for the Southwold pubs and brewery business.

MORE — Pub owners warn of massive job losses as they plunge into the redAdnams owns 44 pubs and runs eight of them, including two hotels. Properties director Nick Attfield said before the November lockdown, things had been looking up for the business, which owns pubs across Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgshire.

Typically, as many are based in seaside and holiday locations, business is seasonal with an upturn over Christmas.

But this year — with coronavirus restrictions in place and limited opportunity for foreign travel — off-season staycations boomed.


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“Our bookings were really strong right the way through into November so we knew we had a really good stream of customers coming in. We would have had a really bumper November and the weather has obviously been kind — obviously we had to cancel that (with the November lockdown),” he explained.

And they are local. “When I mapped where customers were coming from in September/October it was essentially people living in Suffolk going to our north Norfolk hotels and people living in Norfolk coming to Suffolk. So I think it was a change of scenery, but not too far.

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Even with the rule of six, bookings were still significantly up, and accommodation reservations were at least 50% up in early December. Bar Christmas, things are usually quiet in December for Adnams-managed pubs, which aren’t close to big businesses taking staff out for a festive knees-up, he explained.

That was before the tier 2 rules preventing mixing of households once lockdown ends. How that will affect things, Mr Attfield is unsure but ‘couples only’ stays may be less attractive than group get-togethers for some, he believes.

December 24 to January 1 is normally “incredibly busy”, though. He’s just sent out the emails informing customers of how things will be under the new restrictions. He doesn’t know yet whether there will be mass cancellations or whether guests will roll with it.

“A huge amount of our lunch trade was perfect for the rule of six so I’m worried about lunch trade dropping dramatically as well, particularly coming up to Christmas,” he said.

“It’s that wonderful jolly atmosphere which sadly is going to be missing this year but we are going to make use of every opportunity we have got.”

Adnams has a few wet-led pubs among its tenanted pubs and having given all its tenanted pubs a rent holiday during the November lockdown it will be having individual conversations with those.

The support from government such as furlough and rates and VAT cuts had worked, he said.

The restriction has also helped the business “flatten the curve” when it came to diners, who appeared more willing to stagger their meal-times. This has meant that instead of an almighty lunch-time rush, he’s been able to staff venues more evenly with an all-day food offer.

“My gut feeling is lunch-time trade will drop dramatically but we’ll still continue to see fairly good accommodation bookings up to Christmas.”

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