Pubs are in a good position to “put themselves in the shop window” and show customers that you can have a “relatively inexpensive, good fun time, down your local,” Clive Watson, chairman, City Pub Group has said. 

Speaking to MCA on the back of its full-year results yesterday, Watson said he believed that pubs in particular would benefit from “less leakage” in trade to other parts of hospitality and leisure, such as cinemas and theatres – which he believes are unlikely to see customers charging back overnight.

While the Prime Minister’s announcement about the reopening of indoor trading from next Monday for groups of six or two households, was expected, it was very welcome confirmation nonetheless, he said.

Watson said that customers have been incredibly compliant on the whole and wanted to have the green light. “We have already seen a big uptake in bookings since then,” he said. Watson hopes that the announcement will also give people more confidence to start booking for bigger groups post 21 June. “Of course, that’s what we missed last year. That will all flood back hopefully,” he said.

City Pub has already seen strong forward bookings for its pubs with rooms in the more tourist-friendly locations, such as North Norfolk, but also Norwich and Cambridge. “Whereas in London you have to work really hard,” he said. “By hard, I mean offers, free breakfast, a bottle of wine on arrival, that kind of stuff, just to fill the beds.”

Watson feels the anticipated staycation boom will “sowing a seed” in the minds of people that there are many nice places to stay in the UK, and he expects a long-term benefit from the current restrictions on international travel. “I also think that people, especially young people, are thinking more about going on planes because of the environmental impact,” he adds.

City Pub is looking to build it estate progressively, up to 100 pubs – though there is no timeline on this goal, said Watson. While the property market is not as open as he would have liked, and there haven’t been the number of opportunities he thought there might be at the start of the pandemic, Watson said the group is looking for opportunities and would increase its focus on sites with accommodation.

“Having accommodation gives you more strings to your bow. It’s a different revenue stream but also it brings punters in… and if you are clever you can keep them there to eat and drink. I think it’s a really nice add on,” he said.

Watson said he was pretty optimistic the government would stick to the 21 June date for removing all restrictions, as the data is going in the right direction, but added that the company was still keeping its feet to the ground.

Over the remainder of the calendar year, he said as well as getting its pubs firing on all cylinders, and “positive cash flow to bolster the coffers”, the group would keep one eye out for opportunities and well as carry out refurbishments and its development sites in cities like Bath, Swansea, Cambridge and Exeter.