Has COVID-19 killed Friday night drinks?

Friday night drinks may have been permanently cancelled by COVID-19 according to new data from mobile ordering and payment platform me&u.

The data suggests Friday night drinks no longer hold the social significance they once did. Pre-COVID, Friday was the hospitality industry’s busiest day of trade, but since restrictions were eased in June, Saturday has taken top spot. The industry is also seeing an increase in Sunday trade, hinting at the rebirth of the Sunday lunch.

Analysis of me&u’s pub data from the past 12 months has shown that Australia’s local pubs have experienced a notable spike in business compared to CBD venues. Suburban venues have grown by 14% year-on-year, while CBD pubs have shrunk by 23%. This could largely be attributed to Australia’s workforce that was placed into lockdown and required to work from home, resulting in an eagerness for the local pub, rather than venturing into the city for after-work Friday night drinks. 

“We really think this can be attributed to Australia’s workforce now splitting up their time between office and home, with many still working from home on a Friday,” said Stevan Premutico, Founder and CEO of me&u. “Rather than venturing into the city for the proverbial after-work drinks, they’re heading to the local for Saturday drinks with mates.”

Elliot Solomon, CEO of Solotel Group, which operates 17 pubs and bars across Sydney including the Golden Sheaf in Double Bay, The Clock in Surry Hills, Bank Hotel in Newtown, and Albion Hotel in Parramatta, said: “We’ve seen that as people spend more time working from home in the suburbs, of course there’s more opportunity for them to visit their local pub throughout the week. Whether that’s a midweek lunch or afternoon catch up, it’s been great to see. The inner city venues certainly were hit hard last year but we’re seeing very positive signs of the CBD thriving again in 2021 as workers return to their city offices”.

Notably though, since December 2020, CBD venues have grown at a faster rate than suburban venues, largely credited to the easing of restrictions and the gradual return to the office.

So the question is, will we see a permanent change in consumers favouring their local pub, or will CBD venues flourish once again, especially now that restrictions have been further eased?  

There are positive signs for Sydney and Melbourne pub markets with recent sales of pub leaseholds. JDA Hotels has paid $7.5million for the leasehold at the Mountbatten Hotel in Sydney’s Chinatown district and in Melbourne, Colonial Leisure Group has sold the leasehold interest of Bimbo in Fitzroy to Australian Venue Co.

“It is heartwarming to know the enduring appeal of the local pub is stronger than ever and that Aussies have come out in droves to support their local venues over the past year,” Premutico said. “I think this demonstrates that the local pubs are at the very heart of the Australian way of life and they are key to reconnecting society again after the toughest of years.    

“However, whilst it is great to see suburbs are on the rise, the CBD data is of concern, demonstrating once again how much CBD venues, the lifeblood of our city, need everyone’s support. They have copped the triple hit of no CBD workers, no tourists and no local residents. We’ll be closely monitoring the data over the coming weeks and hope to see a significant upturn now that we can stand up, socialise and dance again”. 

The data from hundreds of venues across the country, also reveals that one year on from the first lockdown, pubs are nearing 80% of their pre-COVID patron levels, reaffirming how vital the safe and pragmatic easing of restrictions is for the industry. 

In June 2020, following the three-month lockdown, the average spend at pubs spiked by 28% as Australians rushed out to support the industry and socialise with their friends and family again. This gradually decreased over the following months, although as of March 2021, it is still up year-on-year by 8%, an increase the industry is relying on to pick up the pieces and build a stronger industry moving forward.

Nathan Muller, Director of Wesley Anne Group which operates Victoria’s Edinburgh Castle Hotel, The Charles Weston, Dr Freeman and Wesley Anne, said:  “I love the concept of our business ‘pivoting’ through these uncertain times, though it would seem sometimes it has been around in circles. It’s great to have a reasonable customer base across the board and we’re grateful to welcome back large groups for functions and music events. The pressure of 1: 2 square metres is still proving to be problematic for larger events though, so we’re definitely wearing our ‘organiser hats’ more than ever before.”

Patron confidence in pubs, clubs & bars returns

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