Favourable weather has contributed to a strong summer for Thorley Taverns, but the looming energy threat of high energy prices is a cause of concern for the business, operations director Philip Thorley told MCA.

Despite a weaker summer of staycations this year, the 19-strong business, whose venues are located across the Kent coast, has enjoyed “a very good summer”, with the biggest defining factor being “Mr Sunshine”.

“Staycations have not been as strong as last year, as people have been managing to go abroad, but horror stories at airports in the early part of the summer I think kept a lot of people away from booking again,” Thorley explained.

Like other businesses, Thorley Taverns has seen a noticeable impact on trade from the train strikes, with businesses in Kent also dealt a blow last week when it was announced that Eurostar will refrain from resuming its Eurostar stops in Ebbsfleet and Ashford, potentially until 2025.

“It will definitely lower footfall in the county, there are no two ways about it. Kent, like any other county, wants to get as much incoming traffic as we possibly can and not having travel hubs to Europe is a negative thing, so we are very disappointed about it.”

Overall trade is either in the region of, or slightly higher than 2019 levels, with bookings for functions now coming back – the part of its business that was missing in the first half of the year, he said.

However, Thorley said he was slightly nervous about Christmas bookings, and how profitable the period would be, given the level of inflation at the moment. “We set our prices earlier in the year and with inflation and cost prices going north, it’s going to be a challenging one.”

The business has also been subject to its second price rise of the year from its beer supplier – something Thorley said he can’t remember ever happening before during his time at the 50-year-old family business.

Consumers are very aware about prices going up, with inflation the topic of conversation in every one of its pubs.

While Thorley is conscious that it’s important to focus on the aspects of his business he can control, the situation with rising energy prices is the biggest concern for him at the moment.

“We have contracts coming to an end at the latter part of this year, so Putin cutting off the pipeline from 20% to zero is going to be a real challenge. We are going to hang fire in the short-term and we very much hope the government does something about it as it effects everybody,” he said.

Given its pubs’ location in the sunniest part of the UK, Thorley said the business has been exploring the potential benefits of solar panels, “but they are not going to cure my immediate situation”.

“We have got to deal with the here and now. It’s all very well looking at next year and the year ago, but you have got to get through today.”

Despite cost challenges the business is continuing to invest in its existing estate, and earlier this year purchased two of the freeholds of its pubs from Global Mutual – sites that it had leased for some 30 years, taking it up to 15 freehold pubs out of 19.

He said that while there “may well be opportunities as this winter of discontent continues”, the most important thing for Thorley Taverns was to ensure its existing estate is in the best form it can be and to look after its people.

“We have got to create the platform, the products and the services that people enjoy and want to come back for.”