JD Wetherspoon said today that trading still hasn’t recovered to pre-pandemic levels as it revealed the company suffered a record loss due the Covid lockdowns.
Like-for-like sales in the first nine weeks of its current financial year were 9% lower than the same weeks in August and September 2019, before the pandemic started.
In the last four weeks of the period, like-for-like sales were down 6%.
Excluding airport pubs, where like-for-like sales declined by 47%, like-for-like sales declined by 7% in the first nine weeks, and by 5% in the last four.
Wetherspoon is hoping that business recovers as strongly as possible after reporting a £146m loss for the 12 months to 25 July, compared with a £35m loss the year before. Turnover fell 38% year-on-year to £772m.
Total employee numbers averaged 39,025 in the financial year, which increased to 42,003 for the week ending 20 September 2021.
On average, Wetherspoon said it has received a reasonable number of applications for vacancies, as indicated by the increase in employee numbers, but some areas of the country, especially “staycation” areas in the West Country and elsewhere, have found it hard to attract staff.
Chairman Tim Martin said: “During the pandemic, the pressure on pub managers and staff has been particularly acute, with a number of nationwide and regional pub closures and reopenings, often with very little warning, each of which resulted in different regulations.
“In the last year, the country moved, in succession, from lockdown, to ‘Eat Out to Help Out’, to curfews, to firebreaks, to pints with a substantial meal only, to different tier systems and to further lockdowns.
“Pub management teams, and indeed the entire hospitality industry, had an almost impossible burden in trying to communicate often conflicting and arbitrary rules to customers.
The company said it is “cautiously optimistic” about the outcome for the financial year, on the basis that there is no further resort to lockdowns or onerous restrictions.
It said: “The biggest threat to the pub industry, and also, inter alia, to restaurants, theatres, cinemas, airlines and travel companies, relates to the precedent set by the government for the use of lockdowns and draconian restrictions, imposed under emergency powers.”