The White Lion pub set in Covent Garden, UK.
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As countries come out of the lockdown, pub and restaurant owners have a simple plea for punters: honor your bookings.
Drinkers and eateries that fail to cancel before skipping a reservation are estimated to cost the UK hotel industry £ 1
Pubs whose appeal lies in granting a license to unleash are uniquely vulnerable to Covid-19 restrictions. The UK lost more than 2,700 of them in January and February alone, on top of 12,000 or more more, as research consultancy firm CGA expects to close its doors for good last year. It’s more than a pub that breaks down every hour.
In America, the situation is just as serious. The National Restaurant Association estimates that 110,000 eateries and beverages had closed long-term – if not for good – by December 2020, when the industry lost nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars.
Of those who ate and drank places, bars and taverns were hardest hit, with those staying open as sales fell by 65% over the year.
Although President Joe Biden’s vaccine drive and infrastructure plans lay the groundwork for a miracle rebound, the association says gains this year “will not be nearly enough” to compensate for the sector’s Covid-19 loss.
Data collected by the booking company OpenTable reveals the damage. “Even more now than ever when restaurants reopen,” EMEA Vice President Lucy Taylor said in a statement, “it is important that we are all aware of the impact that absences can have.”
When customers do not warn a pub or restaurant that they cannot make a reservation, the venue is back with the bag. Foursquare Group, an independent business lawyer based in the UK, explains: “Hospitality sites use their booking information to plan staff and ensure they have enough stock to meet their orders. When a customer does not reach their assigned booking, it is almost impossible for a restaurant to resell the table without notice. ”
Egil Johansen, owner of The Kenton, a multi-award-winning pub in Hackney in east London, told CNBC in a phone call about his experience of absence when English pubs briefly reopened in December.
“We were fully booked and on a Friday 30 people did not show up. We had rejected people. These absences represented about half of our indoor capacity,” he said.
Johansen called the loss of business “destructive” and highlighted some players’ habit of booking tables at different venues during the same time period, choosing one and not canceling the others, which is particularly discouraging.
Regardless of Covid-19, about 60% of new restaurants did not last their first year before the pandemic hit. Now the companies that have survived are taking a fine line to keep the lights on: complying with social distance rules is taking the number of people that companies can serve, forcing them in many cases to pair their trading hours.
Locations are able to serve small groups outside again in the UK and there is hope that the sector can recover – the latest data from the CGA shows that almost half of English adults had already returned to hospitality within a week after reopening.
At The Kenton, Johansen says he was “very nervous” and was waiting to open his doors on April 12. The Monday before, he built a roof over the beer garden, whose visitors were deterred by the city’s infamous unstable weather.
In an effort to reduce the number of missed showers, the Foursquare Group has launched the #SaveMySeat campaign, urging the public to pay a deposit when making a table reservation.
Louise Kissack, the group’s non-executive director of hospitality, says the goal is “to help customers understand that when your local independent restaurant asks you for a small deposit when booking, it’s simply their way of protecting their business and protecting their future. “
For its part, OpenTable also punishes people who do not show up. Lucy Taylor explains: “repeat offenders who do not show up for a reservation four times within 12 months are prohibited from making future reservations through the app and the website.”
Johansen has taken another tackle – one he calls a “deterrent, not a deposit.” Kenton does not take deposits when booking, but asks for visitor card information. “No money leaves your account unless you show up,” he says. “The regulars don’t mind, as they’re used to putting a card behind the bar anyway. If people are serious about showing up, they’ll give their details.”
It’s still early days in England’s reopening, but when Johansen spoke to CNBC, Kenton had had full capacity every night without being absent. The first night he says, “the mood just lifted.”
Pub participation, however, has given him a problem. “I have had to place a new order with my supplier,” he laughs. “I may not be able to meet the demand otherwise.”