Operators count the cost of mixed messages over Omicron

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

Operators count the cost of mixed messages over Omicron

Related tags Coronavirus Pure Iberica

Operators are counting the cost of the Government’s mixed messages around what employers and the public should do in the face of the new Omicron variant.

London-based grab-and-go operator Pure is 10% down on last week, with CEO Spencer Craig noting a spike in sales on Monday (29 November) which he puts down to a last minute scramble to shop and do other activities, including visiting the hairdresser, without having to wear masks.

Masks became compulsory in a number of settings on Tuesday (30 November), including retail and public transport, but not hospitality.  

“We now believe that more people are choosing to return to work from home and offices are reducing the numbers of staff coming in,” Craig says. 

Such behaviour tallies with reports of Christmas party bookings and other group dining reservations taking a hit​as fears grow over the latest Covid-19 variant, with operators reporting cancellations of existing bookings as well as a drop off in demand for new bookings.

Earlier this week, Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK’s Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said everyone can do their bit by reducing the number of social contacts they have - and by “not socialising when we don’t particularly need to”. 

Following this announcement, Boris Johnson urged people not to cancel Christmas parties and other face-to-face events, but many in the industry believe the re-introduction of compulsory mask wearing in some settings and inconsistent Government messaging has badly shaken consumer confidence 

“Whilst the Government’s messaging has been clearer than previously their inconsistency is still very problematic especially when it conflicts with advice given by the chief medical officer,” Craig continues.

“The problem for us is that people now take matters into their own hands which almost immediately results in a reduction in movement and a return to WFH. This is the worst case scenario for us as without government policy on this we cannot hope to receive any support or compensation.”

Pure - which currently operates 20 sites - reports that sales have decline in both its shops and across its catering service, suggesting that people are simply moving around less.

Marcos Fernandez Pardo has had 10% of his five-strong Spanish restaurant group’s total covers cancelled within the past four days. 

The majority of the covers lost at Ibérica and Arros QD have been through the cancellation of larger parties. 

“We expect these covers to be rebooked in smaller groups," says Fernandez Pardo. "We are however expecting a worst Christmas than we anticipated only last week.” 

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