Dry January: Pub bosses call on Brits to do their duty and get down the local – even if it’s for non-alcoholic beers
Publicans have issued a rallying cry for punters to continue to back their local boozer this month as the industry battles an economic downturn – despite the growing trend for a ‘dry January‘ month off the sauce.
The sector has struggled with sky-high energy bills all while consumers’ feel the pinch of household bills increasing this year.
Pubs’ hopes for a Christmas that saw their fortunes return to pre-Covid levels were dashed due to a slew of rail strikes and a cost of living crunch last month.
Although it was the first festive period in three years without Covid-19 restrictions impinging trade, Michael Kill, chief of the Night Time Industries Association, said that trade over Christmas was “substantially down” versus 2019.
Hospitality bosses have now urged punters to continue supporting venues in January, which is traditionally a quieter month for the industry, despite ongoing strikes hitting rail and TfL services.
Those wanting to participate in Dry January should still back their local high streets by ordering a non-alcoholic option at the pub, industry chiefs have told CityA.M. Some drinkers have told City A.M. they’ve been going to the pub even if they aren’t drinking this January, with some even discussing the latest ‘low and no’ alcohol apps for Dry January.
Some 85 per cent of pubs serve alcohol-free beers now, according to the British Beer and Pub Association.
High inflation has signalled “tough times” for the country with consumers “understandably finding ways to cut back,” Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) said.
With gloomy headlines around every corner, McClarkin said the industry group was “encouraging people to seek out their community hubs and come together with friends and family at their local” despite Dry January intentions.
“Not only will you be greeted with warmth and friendly faces, but you’ll be supporting much-loved businesses that urgently need help to survive,” she added.
The industry was hammered by a series of railway strikes last month, with the RMT and ASLEF unions planning more industrial action in the first week of January.
The disruption saw one in three bookings cancelled in December and pubs and restaurants lost out on £2.3bn in takings, trade body UKHospitality has said.
Dry January doesn’t mean staying in
London Bridge-based bar and live music venue Amazing Grace said it had decided to reopen after Christmas three days later than planned due to the looming action.
“We are certainly worried about the impact from the next round of striking action,” Sammie Ellard-King, the bar’s marketing director, told CityA.M.
Walk-outs across the public transport network have already had a “considerable impact” on the business, Ellard-King said.
The bar is launching a digital membership offer this month in order to entice punters through the doors by the chance to win holidays abroad.
“Doubling down on what we have may be the only way we get through this challenging period,” Ellard-King added.
Energy support needed
Fears of a consumer slowdown come amid reports in The Times that the government will halve its energy bill relief for businesses in the spring.
Jeremy Chancellor Hunt is looking at a support package that targets the most vulnerable businesses, including pubs, bars and restaurants, when the present scheme expires at the end of March.
UKHospitality boss Kate Nicholls tweeted that a reduction in support would be “absolutely devastating” for the sector, which it has seen average bills increase by upwards of 200 per cent since April 2022.
She said it was “vital” that additional support was maintained for particularly energy-hungry sectors.
Calls from publicans to support the industry come just days after fresh figures revealed that more than 32 pubs disappeared in England and Wales each month in 2022.
Analysis of government data by real estate adviser Altus Group found that the overall number of pubs slid by 386 during the year, dropping to 39,787 versus 40,173.
Altus Group’s Ben Nelson said: “Many publicans that I speak to are worried that this could be their last Christmas and really needed certainty about future support.
“High operating costs and low margins make plots attractive for alternative investment and use so continued support is vital to protect pubs as they play an important role at the heart of their local communities.”