Pub-goers are braving wet weather to return to local, say pub chains

Mitchells & Butlers and Marston’s report strong demand for outdoor pint since mid-April reopening

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First published on Wed 19 May 2021 06.23 EDT

Customers have been braving the wet weather to flock back to their local for a pint, according to the pub groups Mitchells & Butlers and Marston’s, which have reported strong demand since reopening in mid-April.

The pub and restaurant group Mitchells & Butlers, which is now serving customers at almost all of its 1,600 venues, said it was confident its profits would rebound once coronavirus restrictions are fully eased.

“We had plenty of examples of hardy souls refusing to leave their pint just because of a bit of rain,” said Phil Urban, Mitchells & Butlers’ chief executive.

The All Bar One owner, which also runs pub chains including O’Neill’s and restaurant brands such as Harvester, said it had seen strong levels of bookings and demand. However, with pubs restricted to outdoor-only tables until indoor drinking resumed on Monday, sales in the five weeks from 12 April remained 37% lower than normal trading before the pandemic.

“It finally feels as though we are on the way back,” said Urban. “Judging by our bookings, we are in for a busy time. We believe people will value eating and drinking out far more than before, having been starved of it for so long.”

Urban said the company’s venues had experienced two weeks of strong trading once outdoor hospitality was allowed to reopen, although this wasn’t helped by periods of inclement weather.

Mitchells and Butlers’ positivity about future trade came as the company reported a pre-tax loss of £200m for the 28 weeks to 10 April, as its revenues slumped to £219m from £1bn a year earlier.

Its rival, Marston’s, also on Wednesday reported early indications of strong demand from customers after the reopening of all of its 1,500 pubs.

The Pitcher & Piano chain owner said nine in 10 of its pubs have outside trading space, which allowed it to reopen half of its English venues in April. Sales since reopeningreturned to 80% of levels recorded during a comparable period in 2019, reaching break-even level in April.

Ralph Findlay, Marston’s long-serving chief executive, who is stepping down in September, described trading as “encouraging” since reopening.

“Our recent strategic investment in additional outdoor trading areas ahead of reopening has enabled us to capitalise on the clear pent-up consumer demand for the pub. We look forward to all trading restrictions being removed next month which signals a return to some semblance of normality,” Findlay said.

The company’s positive outlook came as Marston’s reported a £122m pre-tax loss in the six months to 3 April, while its revenue dropped to £55m, down 84% from the same period a year earlier, after successive lockdowns kept its pubs closed for several months.

Formerly known as Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries until a 2007 rebrand, Marston’s acquired about 150 pubs from the family-owned Welsh brewer SA Brain & Co during the pandemic, saving 1,300 jobs. It has also committed to operating 107 of those venues on a long-term basis.

The company believes it is well positioned to benefit from strong demand from July onwards, when it expects many of its customers to holiday in the UK instead of travelling abroad.

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