UK diner numbers slump to weakest level since May

·2-min read
People pass a largely empty restaurant in central London (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Wire)
People pass a largely empty restaurant in central London (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Wire)

UK restaurants have witnessed their poorest week since the spring as the rapid spread of coronavirus hit the public’s appetite for eating out.

The latest weekly economic update from the Office for National Statistics has revealed the number of seated diners fell by 14 percentage points in the week to December 20.

It said this was 88% of the levels seen in the equivalent week in 2019 and reflected the weakest showing since mid-May.

Hospitality chiefs said earlier this week that firms had reported between 40% and 60% declines in booking numbers, with this worsening in recent days.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a £1 billion package of financing in response aimed at the hospitality and leisure sector, although bosses have already raised concerns this could be insufficient.

The ONS said latest figures also showed that overall retail footfall in the UK over the week to December 18 was at 81% of the levels seen in the same week in 2019.

This also represented a slight step back from the previous week, which had seen footfall at 82% of pre-pandemic levels.

Retailers had been hopeful for a strong Christmas period after suffering from enforced closures at the start of the year and supply chain disruption and soaring inflation more recently.

The Government’s directive for people to return to working from home where possible also reduced city centre footfall and trade at food-to-go outlets.

In central London Pret a Manger stores witnessed a 29 percentage point drop in transaction to represent the lowest level in a week since the start of September, the ONS added.

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