Indoor hospitality re-opens

On Monday, May 17th, pubs in England, Scotland, and Wales are re-opening their doors and inviting customers to eat and drink inside for the first time since November last year.

Outside hospitality has been allowed for a short while now, of course, with many of us hurrying back to enjoy the kind of social interactions denied to us during the long periods of lockdown.

Only being able to serve outdoors did cause concern for many landlords, with large parts of the UK’s pub estate still heavily reliant on indoor trade due to a lack of suitable outdoor space. But those who were able to participate seem to have fared well.

In the first week of business, nearly all categories in the Wholesale sector saw an initial sales boost. This feel-good factor continued into the second week, before starting to drop off slightly in the third.

Have meal offerings changed since pre-Covid times?

In terms of overall sales, as you can see from the table below, the three biggest spending categories are still exactly the same as they were during the corresponding weeks in pre-Covid 2019. (A comparison with 2020 wouldn’t have made much sense as the UK was well into lockdown in April and May last year.)

This reflects the fact that pubs are still using these products as the cornerstone of their menus, with classics like Burgers, Fish & Chips, and Hunters Chicken still featuring regularly.

Where we have seen a change is in the longtail of the category with Vegetarian and Vegan options making impressive gains. In one sense, this shouldn’t be a huge surprise as the rise of popularity in Vegetarian and Vegan diets is now widely known and understood.

Vegetarian and Vegan set to keep growing

However, what is surprising, perhaps, is that Vegetarian and Vegan options were seen as crucial at a time when, with only outdoor hospitality allowed, menu choices were being greatly reduced.

The reason options were being stripped back to basics was both to enable the effective management of limited resources and to help maintain social distancing in kitchens and serving areas. Vegetarian and Vegan options, it seems, are now considered to be must-have menu items for most pubs.

Expect to see the continuing expansion of Vegetarian and Vegan menu offerings as outlets start trading indoors again.

The need for speed

In the last three weeks, compared to pre-Covid times, we have also seen a move to faster turn-around dishes that chef teams can quickly and simply prepare.

Breaded products like Fish Fingers, Fish Burgers, and Breaded Chicken have all made positive gains. These offerings are much quicker to cook and better suited to an outdoor environment than longer lead-time products like Turkey, Pork, and Gammon.

Other predictions for the sector

Overall, sales totals in the coming weeks should break records compared with previous years across May and June. This would be a much-needed boost for the sector, even considering the reduced cover space and continued social distancing measures that are remaining in place until June 21st.

Menu options that involve longer cooking times and more ingredients should also see an uplift, as these are more suited to an indoor setting that escapes the threat of disruption caused by bad weather.

We can’t predict everything

At SalesOut, we’re predicting all regions will see a healthy boost in sales as more covers can be accommodated. However, areas that rely on commuter and office traffic may continue to struggle given the number of businesses that are talking about adopting remote and hybrid working models for the future.

Of course, a spell of prolonged sunshine would provide an additional boost for the industry as it bounces back. However, while we have the expertise to make certain predictions with confidence, we’re not silly enough to try and make a call on the British weather!


About the author