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Office Christmas parties at risk as pub bookings struggle

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Office christmas party
Office christmas party

The office Christmas party remains on the endangered list as fewer employers book pubs for gatherings this festive season, the boss of the All Bar One and O'Neill's owner has warned.

Phil Urban, chief executive of Mitchells & Butlers, said he was expecting to see "less of the big office party but more smaller groups meeting" this festive season.

"This is simply because not all offices have come back, so places like Canary Wharf still feel quiet,” he said.

“Those offices that were doing big parties and coming in to ask if they could book a whole venue out. We've probably seen less of that."

The comments were echoed by Patrick Dardis, chief executive of Young's, who said the pub chain was experiencing "very similar" trends on office party bookings to Mitchells & Butlers.

However, he said, with smaller bookings having ramped up, "covers are well up for the festive period versus 2019 and some pubs have waiting lists for Christmas Day".

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of industry group UKHospitality, said: "The impact is on their own bookings, and also on the pre and post-drinks for major events."

The comments come amid a stalling return to the office among workers, with many based in the City opting to stay working from home on Mondays and Fridays.

Data from Virgin Media O2 showed that about 215,000 journeys were made into the City on a Thursday earlier this month, but that number fell to just 130,000 journeys on the following Friday.

Figures from Remit Consulting, meanwhile, suggested that less than a quarter of staff were back in the office full time across the UK.

Mr Urban said despite expectations for fewer big office parties, pubs were set to still be busy over the festive period.

"I don't think it'll be a record Christmas, but I think it will be a decent enough Christmas, provided that no one from the Government or the media stands up and says don't go to hospitality."

Mitchells & Butlers, which also owns the Harvester and Toby Carvery chains, reported a £400m decline in sales to £1.5bn for the year to September 25 due to pandemic restrictions.

Mr Urban warned that rising costs were still putting pressure on the sector. "The current commodity price on utilities means that energy prices are forecast to double, and that's a step too far really. If that happens, we're unlikely to mitigate that in the next 12 months, but we see it as temporary."

He said recouping higher costs by raising prices was not a simple solution. "The notion that you can just pass this through is just wrong, because customers will vote with their feet."

Mitchells & Butlers said it would instead give customers more options. "They can stay at an entry level point or they can ladder up and spend more. And as long as the quality is there, people are happy to spend more."

Shares rose 2.5pc to 242p. but have been as high as 337p this year.

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