Whether it’s a cosy local snug just off a village green or a vibrant chrome and glass city-centre bar with it’s own piano and regular jazz standards being belted out, the pub and bar are often considered the beating heart of British society.
But for a long time now they have borne the brunt of a range of blows so that for some it’s a surprise that they are still open at all, let alone being able to turn a profit.
They’ve seen rises in VAT and business rates (even temporarily offset they will still have to be repaid at some point in the future); big increases in property prices which they have to pay rent on - which has also increased.
They have had to dispose of beer stocks which has cost them financially especially as they have to be done correctly and legally.
The smoking ban caused them to invest more in outside areas even if the demand was minimal and they didn’t really have the footprint to accommodate it and not one but now two recessions which reduce the amount of disposable income customers have to spend on entertainment.
The latter is a key point as going to the pub is a habit and once broken, it’s hard to get back into the habit of doing things you once did unthinkingly. Especially if there’s a cheaper alternative.
Supermarkets have been in competition for pubs for years aiming to undercut them in both price and volume. Whereas the pub has a unique selling point of a communal and convivial atmosphere, a pub under coronavirus restrictions with social distancing and masks is quite a different proposition from a bouncing Saturday night boozer.
Even if customers have to spend more time at home, they can still enjoy a drink and as supermarkets’ range now expands into drinkers’ trendy favourites such as craft style beers, artisan gins and prosecco, the arguments for going to the pub are fraying.
Demographic changes are also having an effect. For anybody over the age of 40, we now live in the age of pre-loading.
This is where young adult drinkers buy their alcohol from supermarkets or off licences and consume it at home before venturing out to their pub or bar of choice. Because they have already imbibed a larger amount, they will not be spending as much in these places and will be simply topping up their buzz rather than creating it.
Every good publican is a pragmatist and the situation facing pubs and bars is clear.
More than 50% of late-night businesses including pubs, bars and nightclubs have seen a 60% drop in revenue since the 10pm national curfew was introduced on 24th September 2020.
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) said that pubs had seen an immediate impact on trading.
“If the curfew doesn’t work in reducing infections of the virus, it should be reviewed immediately to give pubs a proper chance of recovery.
“If it doesn’t work and isn’t removed then it will mean that hospitality businesses and pubs are unfairly singled out.”
The Night Time Industries Association (NITA), a pressure and promotion body made up of independent venues and entrepreneurs estimates that 60% of their members have reluctantly started to make staff redundant - before the winter Job Support Scheme is activated.
NITA Chief Executive Michael Kill is blunt when he estimates that the Winter Economy Plan is not enough to support the sector citing the combined effect of reduced economic support and ongoing restrictions of varying degrees of severity.
He said: “Our sector must not be under-valued. We need to challenge the government when restrictions result in the systematic closure of an entire Industry.
“In the coming weeks, without further support, we are facing a catastrophic collapse, which will see thousands of businesses and jobs lost.”
What can be done?
From the days of speakeasies in the prohibition era in the US, to the lost art of the after hours “lock in” in the UK - pubs and bars have always had an entrepreneurial streak.
Savvy landladies and landlords have always been one step ahead when it comes to helping their customers so there are several ways they can use their natural inventiveness and initiative to meet the moment and keep their doors open.
Service - with a social distance
Like restaurants, pubs that serve food can continue with some sensible changes and allowances made.
As well as adequate socially distanced table spacing for customers, an advance booking system can be brought in so footfall and traffic can be planned and monitored in advance of busy periods.
Food ordering itself can also be switched to an app with daily menus displayed here or printed on single use paper.
A lot of pubs are doing away with cutlery and condiments on menus and replacing them with hand sanitizers as well as giving staff PPE and making sure they are washing their hands regularly and making a public show of meeting the requirements to reassure customers.
The Beer Garden has always been a USP for pubs and now it can be a crucial tool to help them keep their services going.
It’s easier to keep socially distanced outside and it can also be designated as a performance area so pubs with music, comedy and live quizzes will be able to continue these popular activities as long as they conform to Covid-19 guidelines.
Karaoke and professional singing in particular will work but with some changes. Music volume should be turned down and even song choices considered to avoid singalongs which can increase transmission. It sounds like a small detail but an important one.
Pints to go
Pubs serving food can not only consider a food takeaway service if it’s already being cooked, but some enterprising establishments are offering a drinks delivery service within a small radius.
In this instance one staff member drives and the other keeps the drinks stable and takes them to the doorstop but it’s an example of changing staff roles to help keep the business going and keep them employed rather than being furloughed or even made redundant.
As well as the various different levels of government support available to all businesses including the newly updated and enhanced Job Support Scheme, there are others that are specifically targeted at pubs and other hospitality businesses.
They are temporary VAT rate cuts from 20% to 5% for four months until March 31st 2021 as well as VAT payment deferrals and business rates relief for hospitality businesses. This will be welcome news for city centre establishments that’s rateable value will be out of proportion with similar sized businesses in more rural or lower income locations.
Pubs are classed as hospitality businesses so can also apply for cash grants of between £2,100 and £3,000 per month which can be backdated to August for those businesses that had to close due to local lockdown rules but did not get any previous additional financial support for their loss of trade.
Even with the most ingenuitive solutions sometimes things just don’t work out.
The number of pubs in the UK has been gradually decreasing since 2002 and 2020 could see the largest number for years close their shutters for the last time.
Despite being so much more to so many people, a pub is also a business at the end of the day and as such has some options and solutions available to it as a result.
They can obtain an insolvency moratorium which is a relatively new legal protection that gives companies up to 20 working days “breathing space” to begin to restructure themselves and keep creditors at bay while they do it.
But sometimes even this option is insufficient to rescue a business with too much debt or other liabilities. The pub could even be solvent but the owner might decide that the coronavirus situation gives them the ideal opportunity to move onto other projects.
Not every business that goes into liquidation is insolvent but there are always options to make sure a business closes properly.
The bell ringing in a pub is always a sad sound because it means the end of your night there but sadly the bell is tolling for many within the industry themselves.
Even with financial support, until the Covid-19 situation is resolved, the outlook for pubs and bars is going to be cloudy for the foreseeable future and will give owners the time to consider bigger questions about their future ambitions and careers.
If you’re one of them then we can help you find some focus.
Get in touch with one of our expert advisors today and we can arrange a free virtual and free initial consultation held whenever you want it.
We can set out a slate of available options once we better understand your situation and whether you’re hoping to give your business a fresh start or are calling time on this particular venture.
No matter what you decide, we can advise and help you plan the most efficient and stress free way to get there so you can finally enjoy the drink you’ve finally earned.
The food service arm of the hospitality industry is the third largest private sector employer in the UK.
Accounting for 3.2 million direct jobs and 2.8 million indirect positions, the sector was estimated to contribute £72 billion to the UK economy through its activities and it’s harder to imagine a sector that has been as badly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown.
Hundreds of positions have already been made redundant through closures while the immediate future continues to look tough for the country’s remaining restaurants, cafes and other food service businesses.
Following the imposition of the multi-leveled lockdown system and the 10pm curfew on 24th September for restaurants, the immediate impact has been stark.
Comparing the week before the curfew and the week after, like-for-like sales fell by 21.2% (according to S4labour, an online labour-scheduling management system) while food sales fell 19.1% and drink by 23.2% on the fortnight before.
London suffered the biggest fall with a 38.4% sales decreases compared to a year ago whereas the rest of the UK combined only suffered a 5.2% decrease, although this is still the equivalent of millions of pounds lost from the economy.
S4Labour also noted that 10% of food hospitality sites had yet to reopen at all after lock-down measures were first introduced in March.
Richard Hartley, Chief product officer of S4Labour, commented on the figures by saying: “This level of decline is unprecedented and worrying for the industry.
“Our data shows that food and drink sales are 18.27% below where they were when the curfew was introduced in September with the 9pm to 10pm hour specifically suffering with a 40% reduction in sales as restaurants have to be clear of customers by closure.”
Restaurants and other food service establishments are facing a perfect storm of problems converging on them of which the Covid-19 pandemic and response is just the epicenter.
Business rates, rents and VAT have all increased for most of the sector over the previous months and job losses, business closures and regional lockdowns of varying length and severity has led to lower disposable incomes among a lot of their customers as a result.
According to data from The Insolvency Service, restaurants have seen 25% more insolvencies than the previous 12 months up to and including the end of June 2020.
This trend has continued with food and beverage service activities seeing 195 insolvencies in July and August 2020 combined - more than any other sector for this period.
What can be done?
It might seem like an uphill struggle at the moment but food service businesses are rightly renowned for their tenacity and ingenuity and there are several options and ways they can evolve to meet and mitigate the ongoing health and economic emergency.
Socially Distanced Service
The show must go on for some restaurants that are seeking to adapt to the new guidelines and try to present customers with a functioning service while complying with the law.
This can involve PPE for staff along with temperature and other symptom checks to make sure they are viable to work; well marked and spaced tables and service areas for customers and staff to move among them; Single use menus for each table or in-app ordering; more visible hand sanitisers and air purifiers and the removal of pre-laid cutlery and condiments to minimise transmission.
Hours and number of customers will be reduced but this is an attempt to bring cash into the business and also maintain an element of normalcy in the lives of customers and staff alike.
Takeaway Only Model
If an in-house service is impossible then some have switched to a takeaway only model which involves a pre ordering system either through telephone or app service.
This will also include staff roles potentially being repurposed to help with order taking, food preparation or even doing deliveries. It’s a concrete way of keeping staff employed with the business rather than making them redundant or losing them to other businesses in the sector that do decide to keep operating.
Some businesses could use this new method to permanently offer takeaway services if they reopen and also other potentially lucrative avenues including external catering or pop-up facilities when crowds are allowed to gather and mix again.
While the Eat Out to Help Out scheme provided some respite in August before it was withdrawn, there are other avenues of government support available some of which are universal such as the newly improved Job Support Scheme and others which vary in availability depending on what alert level the local council area has been classified as.
There are temporary VAT rates cuts and deferrals and business rates relief for hospitality businesses along with business cash grants of between £2,100 and £3,000 per month which can be backdated to August for businesses that had to close but previously didn’t receive any financial support.
The end of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is imminent and while the Job Support Scheme will provide some measure of support and income, it won’t be able to cover every single position lost or keep every business from having to ask some hard questions about its future.
Time for realism
Despite all of these measures, with an uncertain future depending on current forecasts and data, you might decide that it’s just not viable to continue going forward with the business under current conditions.
There are several options available here including an insolvency moratorium - to give your business 20 working days breathing space from creditors and other demands.
You can decide what you want to do with your company without undue pressure being applied.
If you do decide that closing the business would be for the best then we can also help you examine the most appropriate liquidation options to end the business as efficiently and stress free as possible.
Despite the economic headwinds battering the food service arm of the hospitality industry is taking, thousands of businesses are still standing - just.
If you’re one of them then we can do more than wish you good luck. Get in touch with one of our expert advisors today and we can arrange a convenient and free initial consultation.
They can talk you through a menu of options that can help keep your business open or if that’s not possible or desired, efficiently and effectively closed to let everybody move on with their lives and careers quickly.
A total of 11,120 chain store outlets closed between January and June while 5,119 opened. The net 6,001 closures is a record high and far higher than the loss of 3,509 for the same period in 2019.
The research from retail specialists The Local Data Company centered on all high streets, shopping centers and retail parks in England, Scotland and Wales and found that on average over 60 stores closed every day with 28 opening - a net daily loss of 32 stores.
The data doesn’t include outlets temporarily closed due to lockdown rules so figures could ultimately be higher if they don’t reopen.
The worst affected retail sectors were fashion, mobile phone and betting stores while the areas that saw the most closures were Greater London with 1,008 net closures followed by South East England and the North West.
The towns with the biggest decreases were York (55 net shop closures), Durham (43) and Corby (26).
Lucy Stainton, head of retail and strategic partnerships at the Local Data Company said: “The results from the first half of 2020 are a stark reminder of the challenges faced by retailers in the first six months of the year, which included a national lockdown.
“With each week that passes since retail and hospitality businesses were given the green light to reopen, the likelihood of these occupiers ever trading again in those units reduces.”
She added that 22% of chain stores still remain temporarily closed and that further restrictions including local lockdowns and 10pm curfews for hospitality businesses would continue to have “a devastating impact” on the sector with more closures likely after the make-or-break festive season ends.
The report urges more government stimulus highlighting further movement restrictions, the end of the furlough scheme on October 31st and for the hospitality sector, the end of VAT reductions and business rates relief in March 2021.
There have been so many canaries in the coal mine in 2020 that it would look something like an aviary.
The Local Data Company’s research shows the parlous state of the retail industry but other sectors such as hospitality are in just as dire straits with possibly worse to come.
The most frustrating part of the Coronavirus pandemic and response for directors and business owners is that it’s not your fault if you see your income plunge off a cliff edge.
It’s not your fault that customers are being told to stay away or risk fines or that you might have invested a lot in PPE and other essential equipment to allow you to operate but local or national lockdowns override this and you end up closing temporarily anyway.
None of it is your fault yet you’ve got to bear the consequences as well as you can.
If there’s a silver lining at all, it’s that the decisions facing you and your business should be crystallizing.
Which is where we can play a part in helping you to make the changes that will keep your business alive in one form or another in order to prosper again.
Get in touch with us today and we can arrange your free virtual consultation whenever you want it.
We can explore the circumstances you face and come up with an efficient and effective plan for your company to navigate these to give you the best chance of flourishing in the future.
Options such as administration, CVA’s or insolvency moratoriums sound official and intimidating but could be the keystone to success. Our knowledgeable and impartial advisors will give you the benefit of their years of experience and if there is a way to keep your business going then we’ll find it working together.
But Startups are businesses too and amongst one of the underreported stories of 2020 is the toll that the Covid-19 pandemic and response has wrought on this most dynamic and agile of business sectors.
We’ve covered the latest insolvency statistics for September but some new research which focuses entirely on the startup sector reveals some stark realities facing the tech bros and sisters.
Specifically that over 1,000 tech startups have filed for either administration, dissolution or liquidation since lockdowns began in March with 273 in September alone.
These are the highest monthly figures recorded since 2011 and represent a huge 181% increase on August alone.
Inadequate access to funding is emerging as one of the main factors in the rise of the demise of startups.
Andrew Roughan, author of the research project said: “The energy that used to be palpable in some startup communities is starting to become muted. The energy has been sucked out of some startups where they are unable to access any funding and they see no end in sight.”
He goes on to highlight the disparity between mature companies and embryonic ones when it comes to accessing the available support schemes rolled out by the government such as the Job Support Scheme and the Future Fund.
The latter was designed to support startups through matching loans equal to funding provided by private investors in the business - but argued that this favoured well-funded Venture Capital (VC) funds that already invest heavily in startups and penalised new companies that relied on other forms of funding or less well capitalized “angel investors.”
One startup founder, Dami Hastrup of Moonhub, said: “It wasn’t geared towards genuine startups. We fit all of the criteria but we couldn’t even apply because it has to be done through an investor.
“The issue was that VCs weren’t investing so to fix the problem the government gave VCs more money.”
Even the JSS will do little to support early startups as it mainly benefits employers who can easily scale back their employees hours.
Chris Horner, Insolvency Director with Business Rescue Expert said: “Sometimes even a great idea and a tremendous work ethic won’t be enough to sustain a new business - especially those facing the extraordinary circumstances of 2020.
“But any business, whether they’ve been going six months or 60 years, can benefit from professional advice from experts to help them make critical decisions now that might mean that even if the company has to scale back and go into survival mode now it will be around to have another go in six months time.
“Sometimes circumstances conspire against entrepreneurs and their young companies through no fault of their own but going through the administration or dissolution process professionally can also teach them some priceless business lessons they can apply in their next ventures”.
Hard economic times are always an opportunity for someone.
Whether it’s to pivot a business to provide a service that exactly what’s needed at the right time or to launch the perfect proposition at the right price point and place - there are always some winners.
The opportunity can also be to look at an existing business and see if some fundamental changes have to be made.
Twitter was a messaging app; Facebook was a dating service for Harvard students; Netflix sent DVDs to people in the post and there was Blockbuster in every town in the world.
Restructuring and recreating a company ready for the next move can be the most important decision a director can make and now is the perfect time to consider what’s next for you and your business.
Get in touch with us today to arrange a free initial consultation with one of our expert advisors.
They can help you identify what areas of your business are strong, what is weak and what has to change to give you the best chance of facing the future with the positivity of a Silicon Valley start-up.
The UK-wide scheme launches on November 1st and aims to provide support to eligible businesses by paying two-thirds of an employees salary - 67% - up to a maximum of £2,100 per month. Companies will still be required to pay their employees pension and National Insurance contributions if they receive this support.
The scheme will initially run for six months with a review period in January built in to monitor its effectiveness.
In order to be eligible for the new assistance, a business will be legally required to close for some period over the winter specifically as part of local or national coronavirus restrictions as ordered by the government or their relative local authority.
This also includes businesses that are forced to close their premises but that continue to provide delivery-only or collection services or are offering food and drinks in an outdoor setting. Employees must be off work for a minimum of seven consecutive days to be eligible.
Businesses that choose to close - that aren’t forced by law but see no compelling reason to remain open - will not be eligible at the moment. Therefore, it will only currently benefit those under tier 3 restrictions, which has been confirmed to include wet bars, but not those who serve substantial meals.
It’s important to point out that this is a new scheme, not an extension of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme which is closing on October 31st.
The CJRS allowed companies to furlough their workers from July and had 80% of their wages covered although this later reduced to 60% and they were required to pay pension and National Insurance contributions from July onwards.
The new JSS expansion does not require any additional wage contributions from employers as they will be paying 55% of wages under the already announced JSS which will pay a further 22% of wages for workers in “viable” jobs on reduced hours.
Payment will arrive after two weeks of closure rather than three and companies can also apply for cash grants based on the rateable value of their properties.
A company with a property rateable value of £15,000 or under can claim £1,334 per month (£667 every two weeks); properties between £15,001 and £51,000 can get up to £2,000 (£1,000 every two weeks) while properties over £51,000 can get £3,000 every month (£1,500 every two weeks).
Companies will also remain eligible to claim the £1,000 job retention bonus paid per worker and designed to encourage firms to keep workers on their payroll.
It would be easy to roll your eyes and exhale thinking “another new announcement” but each one might be the difference between your company surviving the winter and New Year period.
Another great choice to give your company a real fighting chance of seeing the end of this awful contagion is to get in touch with us.
During a free initial consultation we can tell you about all the temporary support measures you’re entitled to and the many existing options there are to help protect and strengthen all the fundamental areas of your business.
The best thing to do would be to contact us quickly because in these fast moving times, the sooner we can work with you, the more options you’ll generally have to choose from.
The businesses that recognise and act at the start of a tightening situation are usually the ones that emerge from it stronger and ready to go when the circumstances let them.
Yes, the winter Job Support Scheme is waiting in the wings but it’s not going to save every job or company.
Some will decide to battle on throughout the winter regardless of the likelihood of success. Others will make hard decisions now in order to try and ward off the worst of the financial storm while some may decide that this is one crisis they are not equipped for and will make arrangements now to begin to close their companies in an orderly fashion.
We look at the fallers among this month’s runners and riders so far and all the other administration and insolvency stories you might have missed this October.
Pizza Hut CVA
Pizza Hut is the latest big-name to instigate a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) with its creditors to protect its long term future in a fluid food environment.
Yum! Brands, who own the UK franchise along with KFC and Taco Bell, have agreed that as part of the deal they would close 29 sites immediately with the loss of 450 jobs.
This still leaves Pizza Hut with 215 locations and over 5000 jobs still in place.
A spokesperson said: “We are delighted to have reached such a constructive position in partnership with our landlords and creditors. We appreciate the support of everyone involved and this outcome provides us with a strong platform to secure the long-term future of the business.”
Pizza Hut joins Pizza Express, Ask Italian, Zizzi, Carluccio’s, Bella Italia, Cafe Rouge and Las Iguanas in seeking the protection from creditors actions and breathing space offered by a CVA.
The largest Cinema operator in the UK has announced that it’s temporarily closing all of its 127 UK sites as well as its 536 US based ones.
Mooky Greidinger, Cineworld chief executive, said: “This is not a decision we made lightly, and we did everything in our power to support safe and sustainable reopenings in all of our markets - including meeting, and often exceeding, local health and safety guidelines in our theatres and working constructively with regulators and industry bodies to restore public confidence in our industry.
“Cineworld will continue to monitor the situation closely and will communicate any future plans to resume operations in these markets at the appropriate time, when key markets have more concrete guidance on their reopening status and, in turn, studios are able to bring their pipeline of major releases back to the big screen.”
Along with hospitality, the entertainment industry is suffering from the double hits of no big names to lure them through the doors and the new infection spikes indicating that the virus spreads more quickly indoors.
With 51% of entertainment, recreation and arts industry workers still on furlough, the forthcoming job support scheme will be of little benefit to the workers losing their positions as they are not able to remain employed in any capacity - part-time or full-time.
Administration for Polpo
The small-plate specialists will close their chic Venetian-inspired restaurants in Chelsea and Soho after being unable to return to profitability following a CVA last year.
The group celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2019 and closed three more branches in London and Brighton to concentrate on its core locations but sadly Covid-19 restrictions have choked off any hope of recovery for the group.
One of the best known English Language colleges in the country has appointed liquidators as Coronavirus restrictions meant that it was impossible for MLS International to continue trading.
The Bournemouth-based campus welcomed around 2,000 pupils a year from 40 countries at its peak but the enforced closure of educational institutions in March along with uncertainty around the legality of being able to provide certain specialist training online meant that they ceased to generate any revenue since April.
The travel restrictions from various countries proved to be the final, insurmountable obstacle as a large proportion of their students would come from the aviation industry.
A spokesperson said: “It’s sad to see a company like MLS fail as it’s a college that has long-established training traditions and is well known in Bournemouth, it’s hometown, abroad and in the industry.
“The pandemic has severely impacted this business which has until this year been profitable. Unfortunately, the reduction in international air travel, uncertainty as to its return and no guarantee that overseas students would want to travel to the UK to learn English in sufficient numbers for the business to be profitable, the directors had to make the difficult decision to cease trading and enter liquidation to prevent the position worsening for creditors.”
Upmarket Italian eatery Gusto Italian has entered a CVA to secure its immediate future.
Its landlords and other creditors agreed a deal to keep the majority of its sites open but four will close along with 105 jobs that could not be redeployed to other locations.
Chief Executive Matt Snell said: “The last six months have been the most challenging in the history of our business and the wider sector. The passing of the CVA is an important milestone, securing the future of the Gusto business and protecting more than 600 jobs.”
The famous company that secured the offer of millions of pounds from the Department of Transport despite not having any ships in its fleet has entered voluntary liquidation.
Seabourne Freight owes creditors including HMRC over £2 million but only had £39,120 in assets to repay them.
The company was awarded a £13.8 million contract in 2019 to ship food and medicine between Ramsgate and Ostend in Belgium to relieve Dover’s port in case of a no-deal Brexit but this was later rescinded when it was revealed that Seabourne didn’t have any fleet to make the sailings.
With a quarter of the country under various local lockdowns with no sign of respite and a new traffic-light system due to be unveiled with even harsher restrictions attached, 2020 is still going out of its way to beat everybody into submission.
Every time it looks like there’s some good economic news, three pieces of bad news come along to pile on top of it. Spring 2021 might be five months away but it sometimes feels like five years.
If it’s hard to make forecasts for the immediate future now - how can we accurately predict what’s going to happen beyond the rest of the year with any certainty?
One thing we can say with a degree of certainty is that our expert advisors are always available to speak to you once you get in touch with us.
They’ll arrange your free virtual initial consultation whenever you want to help you focus on your immediate challenges and what you can do to meet and beat them.
We can help you set out an action plan to tackle your longer term issues too but the most important thing to do is to make the decision early to speak to a Business Rescue Expert and see what they’ve got to say.