By Scott Wright

MARSTON’S has cited the effect of “tighter restrictions” as its pubs in Scotland and Wales were “more significantly impacted” during the Omicron outbreak than their counterparts in England at Christmas.

The Midlands-based brewer and leisure company became the latest in a series of major players from the hospitality and drinks industries to highlight the fallout from the outbreak, which dented sales at Mitchells & Butlers, JD Wetherspoon and C&C Group, owner of Tennent’s Lager, during the key festive period.

Marston’s, which has 22 pubs and employs around 600 people in Scotland, reported that total like-for-like sales tumbled by 3.9 per cent in the 16 weeks to January 12, compared with the same period two years previously, “reflecting the impact of the Omicron variant and consumer sentiment” relating to the outbreak.

The emergence of Omicron and measures to suppress it halted the “encouraging trading momentum” Marston’s had previously gathered, which had seen like-for-like sales rise by 1.3% in the eight weeks to November 27.

And the company declared its pubs in Scotland and Wales, where 18% of its outlets are located, were “more significantly impacted” because of the “tighter” restrictions that were enforced.

Marston’s, which has around 1,500 pubs across the UK, highlighted Government messaging, including for people to work from home if they could and to limit socialising, as like-for-like sales tumbled by 8.8% in the eight weeks to January 12.

In Scotland, people were urged to avoid Christmas parties and curb socialising under official advice issued in early December. The advice was followed by the introduction of measures on December 27 which effectively closed nightclubs and saw one-metre social distancing and table service reintroduced to pubs. Those measures were eased by the Scottish Government on Monday with the Omicron outbreak appearing to have peaked.

Andrew Andrea, chief executive of Marston’s, expressed confidence that the “strong trading momentum” built up by the company before the Omicron outbreak would “resume” further to restrictions lifting.

Mr Andrea, who succeeded Scot Ralph Findlay as chief executive in October, said: “While the emergence of the Omicron variant and subsequent Government guidance temporarily impacted consumer sentiment, we remain confident that the strong trading momentum which we were experiencing prior to that will resume.

“We welcome the various plans under way to gradually ease trading restrictions in Scotland and Wales. These, together with the reduction in the required self-isolation period and anticipation of an imminent end to the work from home directive, should enable some semblance of normalised trading patterns to return.

“Indeed, there is growing evidence over the most recent of weeks of the New Year that consumer confidence is rebuilding, and guests are returning to our pubs in greater numbers, which is encouraging.

“Importantly, Marston’s has a well-invested, predominantly community pub estate which is well placed to benefit from the pent-up consumer demand which we are confident remains.”

C&C issued a profit warning on January 7 as it reported trading conditions were “significantly impacted” by the introduction of restrictions in the UK and Ireland in December.

Mitchells & Butlers, which has a 1,700-strong estate including Glasgow’s Horseshoe Bar, cited the impact of the Omicron variant on January 13 as it said like-for-like sales fell by 6 per cent in the seven weeks to January 8. Chief executive Phil Urban, however, backed the business to “swiftly recover” as restrictions ease.

Last week, JD Wetherspoon reiterated that it expects to be loss-making in the first half after sales were hit by restrictions at Christmas. But chairman Tim Martin said he “hopes that, with the ending of restrictions, improved customer confidence and better weather, it will have a much stronger performance in the second half.”

Shares in Marston’s closed down 0.9p, or 1.15%, at 79p.