Bosses of pubs, bars and restaurants across the UK are warning they are already receiving cancellations of bookings for Christmas parties amid fears about the Omicron variant and following mixed guidance over socialising during the festive season.
“We are seeing that some of the people in large organisations who organise bigger events are taking the cautious view because I guess they feel some overriding responsibility. We are not seeing that in young people,” said Hugh Osmond, the founder of Punch Taverns.
“Social interaction is, after food and water, the most important thing for a human being’s mental health,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Christmas trading is vital for hospitality venues, many of whom rely on making enough money in the festive period to get them through the leaner months at the start of the new year. The loss of a second Christmas season in a row would be extremely damaging for many businesses.
The prime minister said on Tuesday that people should not cancel upcoming parties and gatherings, only hours after one of the UK’s most senior health officials urged people to reduce their social contact.
Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of the trade body UK Hospitality, said its members were starting to see bookings cancelled, which would have a serious financial impact on their businesses.
She said there was no doubt that fears about the Omicron variant would “have a dampening effect just as we were about to head into our busiest trading period, and any drop in revenue pushes businesses back to loss-making as government support like grants and furlough has fallen away”.
Sacha Lord, the night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester, said six or seven operators of hospitality businesses across the city had informed him they had received cancellations on Monday for Christmas parties.
“They needed a good December behind them,” Lord said. “Now this has thrown a grenade in.”
Lord and Osmond unsuccessfully brought legal action against the UK government in the spring, when they tried to bring forward the date for pubs and restaurants to be allowed to serve customers indoors.