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London still losing pubs and restaurants post-pandemic

LONDON BUSINES NEWS – With London still losing pubs and restaurants post-pandemic, amid the cost of living crisis and work from home aftereffects still lingering, the hospitality sector in London is looking rather precarious.

According to new research a higher proportion of pubs, bars, restaurants and nightclubs have closed in central London than in most other British cities since the pandemic, with 15.6% of all licensed premises in London closing from March 2020 through March 2024, compared with the national average of 12%.

Given the number of firms operating in the sector this means that the equivalent of 540 closures per year and one every two days.

Whilst the worst of the decline seems to have passed there was still a 1% overall drop in the number licensed premises in London from December 2023 to March 2024.

The research was carried out by CGA & AlixPartners. Karl Chessell, director of CGA, said: “The pandemic had a devastating impact on the hospitality sector and London was hit particularly hard with a reliance on office workers and tourists to help drive sales.”

Additionally,  research from the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) found that over 3,000 bars, restaurants, and pubs in London have ceased trading post-pandemic, as firms struggled to pay employees amid dwindling footfall and rising costs. That some 3,011 businesses have shut down from March 2020 to March 2024 is unprecedented.

Pubs Being Sold Off to Developers

Jenny Jefferies, a resident of St Johns Wood, London said that they have lost all but one of their local pubs in the last 10 years. She said, “Its terrible really. We have lived here for 15 years and in that time have seen pub after pub close down, get demolished and then converted into housing. When the cricket was on in Lords, you’d have locals and visitors all meeting in the many local pubs enjoying a few drinks before heading over to watch the cricket. But not now. There is a real sense of loss in terms of community spirit.”

Speaking to a number of Londons landlords who saw their venues close recently, there was a recurring theme over the last 10 years, made worse during Covid.

As more and more inner city apartments were being built in non residential zoned areas, a trend emerged were London’s property developers applied for change of use, built the apartments and sold them to investors off-plan. But when the actual rental residents moved in, they were now living in close proximity to night-time economy premises. Premises, that before the change of use didnt have residential occupiers to worry about. This saw an explosion in noise complaints.

The noise complaints would often overwhelm the pubs, with many forced to install expensive noise abatement measures or close. Once one developer moved into the area, it would often signal a managed decline in the local night-time economy which developers benefited from by then buying up the closed pubs and turning those into more and more apartments.

An Ongoing and Never-ending Struggle

For those in the night-time economy lucky enough to not have to deal with the threat of developers, there is still the threat of 300% energy cost increases over the last 2 years, increased rents, increased wages, increased cost of buying ingredients and their own cost of living crisis at home to worry about, amid a drop in business revenues and profits.

Adrian Mills, who runs Thai Tho in the heart of Soho in central London, says customers are still coming in but are more cautious about what they order. 

“We have noticed customers have one glass, not one bottle of wine. They will miss out on a starter, they will miss out on dessert, they’ve scaled back on their spend.” he added, having seen his business costs and wages rise near 30% in the last couple of years.We were paying £27,000 per year for electric, that’s now £70,000. I’ve been involved in hospitality and in 30 years we’ve never known a harder, more difficult time” said Adrian.

Even now the mention of Covid is in past tense, there are a large number of workers working from home on Mondays and particularly Fridays which has contributed to a slower post-pandemic footfall recovery in London and unless this tend is reversed, soon, we could lose more and more of our local pubs.

As the saying goes, “Use it or Lose it”.

Thai Tho in the heart of Soho - London still losing pubs
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Business Chamber is an online business and small business news chamber, bringing you selected news on wider economic and business events interspersed with SME news and events that usually dont get a look in by mainstream syndicated news outlets.

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