The UK hospitality sector fears rail strikes will hit the buffers this Christmas with its gravy train. Hospitality industry | Daily News Byte

The UK hospitality sector fears rail strikes will hit the buffers this Christmas with its gravy train.  Hospitality industry

 | Daily News Byte

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Deck the halls, put on Christmas tunes and crack the bubbly. The UK hospitality industry had high hopes that the first festive season without Covid restrictions for three years would lead to a boom in trade.

Country pubs, restaurants and hotels were looking forward to a bumper December and their venues once again hosted Christmas parties and family gatherings.

However, a combination of train strikes, snow and icy conditions has created a pre-Christmas nightmare for the industry and triggered a spate of cancellations.

Hospitality venues believe nearly a third of reservations will be canceled during the Christmas-party peak period because of the ongoing rail workers’ strike, which has also emptied high streets and office buildings as shoppers and commuters prefer to stay home.

The surge in cancellations comes at the worst possible time: Hospitality businesses typically expect a third of their annual sales to fall in December. And they are struggling with rising food and beverage, staffing and energy costs, at a time when consumers are tightening their belts.

More transport strikes are planned by 40,000 RMT members from Christmas Eve until December 27, meaning some in the industry fear the impact of industrial action could be as bad as last year, when concerns about the Omicron Covid variant saw revelers scupper their plans. leaves at the last minute. Many restaurateurs and publicans worry that December’s lost spending will never be recouped, as canceled Christmas parties are not rescheduled.

The industry’s trade body, UKHospitality, has predicted that the strike will cost businesses around £1.5bn in lost sales and other knock-on effects.

The organisation’s chief executive, Kate Nicholls, warned its members – who employ around 3 million people and run 110,000 outlets – of “extremely challenging times ahead” at the trade body’s annual shindig in London last week.

She added that the “cost of doing business and the cost of living crisis” were creating a “perfect storm” for the sector.

That storm may not be going away anytime soon. Many hospitality businesses – closed for months during the ongoing pandemic lockdown – entered the energy crisis saddled with additional debt from Covid loans they are still paying off.

The industry is urging the government to extend its energy bill relief scheme till the end of March. For now, he hopes to get more information before guests start arriving at venues for New Year’s Eve parties.

The dark days of January and February usually bring a slowdown in trade for hospitality businesses, while many customers watch out for the end of winter from the comfort of their sofas after the excesses – and extra costs – of Christmas.

But many pubs, bars and restaurants expect the start of 2023 to be even more challenging than usual.

Amid stubbornly high inflation and worries of a looming recession, many businesses dependent on consumer spending fear a very bleak midwinter. If their rocks aren’t ringing as loud as usual during the holiday season, some may find it a stretch to pay their rent for the first quarter of the year on Christmas Day.

In response to rising costs from their suppliers, many hospitality venues have had to raise their own prices. Indeed, the higher cost of going out for a drink or meal played the biggest role in pushing prices up in November, according to official inflation figures from the Office for National Statistics.

All this sets the scene for a tough balancing act for hospitality businesses in the coming year. Many people will want to raise their prices to cover the higher costs, but ask themselves if making drinking and dining more expensive risks scaring away customers.

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