By Scott Wright

PUB giant Mitchells and Butlers, owner of Glasgow’s Horseshoe Bar, has underlined the effect that the emergence of the Omicron variant had on pre-Christmas trading.

M&Bs, which has a managed estate of around 1,700 pubs, saw like-for-like sales tumble by six per cent in the seven weeks to January 8. Sales were measured against the same period in its 2019 financial year, the last full year before Covid.

The company said it had made a “strong start” to its current year, which began in late September, with like-for-like sales growth of 2.7% over the first eight weeks.

But that “encouraging” start began to run out of steam in early December, when concerns over Omicron were emerging. M&Bs said the subsequent downturn was felt acutely in the most recent four weeks, including over the festive season, which saw like-for-like sales decrease by10.2%.

But chief executive Phil Urban said: “Experience shows that as restrictions ease, and confidence returns, our business is able to swiftly recover”.

He added: “To that end, whilst we expect activity to continue to be adversely impacted in the short term, we are encouraged by the latest data on the Omicron variant which we believe will boost consumers' confidence to return to pubs and restaurants allowing us to regain the momentum which was beginning to build, supported by the benefits from our new set of Ignite initiatives."