Publicans cautiously optimistic for future, survey finds

Monday, May 15, 2023. 10:41pm
Publicans cautiously optimistic for future, survey finds

Almost three-quarters of publicans outside Dublin say turnover is now similar or greater than pre-Covid, with many expected to upgrade their pubs in the coming year.

A new survey shows the vast majority are confident about the future of their bars, despite the spiralling cost of energy, insurance and other operating expenses.

The research for the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) reveals that 72% of publicans say turnover is now at a similar level or has exceeded pre-pandemic turnover, with the same number turning a profit in in 2022.

Its new President, John Clendennen, will tell the group’s 50th AGM on Tuesday (May 16) that post Covid, pubs are striving to become established visitor destinations and vital economic pillars in local areas.

But he also warns pubs face a “huge battle” to stay afloat and will need key State supports such as the retention of the 9% hospitality VAT rate and insurance reform.

“In 2020, it felt as if our world was coming to an end. Through an abundance of resilience, innovation and diversity in product offering, we came through the crisis,” he said.

“Pubs are no longer simply competing with the bar down the road, but with everything from gym membership to television subscriptions, live events and foreign holidays as people choose where to spend their hard-earned disposable income.

“Across the country, pubs have been inventive, many becoming visitor destinations for tourists from at home and abroad, attracting and keeping money and jobs in the country.

“The Irish pub is a cultural institution, but publicans face a huge battle to keep their businesses viable over the coming years.

“Key supports such as keeping VAT at 9%, and energy interventions, are crucial to the pub trade and the wider hospitality sector.”

The survey bears out strong anecdotal sentiment within the industry that post-Covid investment in pubs is critical to the industry recovering after three pandemic lockdowns, the most stringent in Europe.

It found over a third of publicans will upgrade their premises this year.

Over 80% are confident their financial performance will be at least equal or improve in 2023 compared to last year.

The survey of 514 members, conducted late last month by business consultants BDO on behalf of the VFI, found that 96% of them operate standalone pubs while 4% are part of a chain.

Nearly a third, or 30.8%, describe their businesses as gastropubs, with the remainder being traditional bars.

Mr Clendennen said there is clear evidence of a leap of faith amongst publicans, many of whom have experienced soaring input costs that have placed their bars under huge strain.

“There has been considerable commentary regarding pub closures in recent years and hopefully this research will act as a catalyst for new entrants to the trade.

“Insurance remains an ongoing headache for our members so it is vital reforms in this area are implemented by Government.”

The organisation will hold its 50th anniversary AGM at the Knightsbrook Hotel in Trim, Co Meath, on Tuesday.

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