Cancel culture: Omicron jitters hit Xmas bookings

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

Christmas bookings Omicron variant

Related tags: Christmas, Coronavirus

Christmas party bookings are taking a hit as fears grow over the latest Covid-19 variant, with operators reporting cancellations of existing bookings as well as a drop off in demand for new bookings.

Larger corporate bookings are being particularly badly hit, with chef restaurateur Chris Galvin reporting the loss of some his London-centric restaurant group’s biggest festive bookings. 

“It’s not wholesale yet but we’ve lost several over the last week. We’re keeping our eye on it," he says. "Fortunately demand is such that we should be able to fill the gap with smaller tables. But it’s the last thing we need. I feel sorry for our events team, they have put a lot of hard work into selling Christmas packages.” 

David Toscano - the owner of Cin Cin, which operates Italian restaurants in London and Hove - says that the new variant has softened an already soft December, with cancellations more of an issue at his group’s Fitzrovia site than its South Coast restaurant. 

“Customers are clearly jittery again about meeting in groups,” he says. 

Sam Harrison of Sam’s Riverside says that he is feeling “nervous and concerned” following a flurry of cancellations for his Hammersmith restaurant’s private dining. 

This anecdotal evidence is backed up data from bookings platform DesignMyNight, which reports an ‘immediate and sustained effect on hospitality cancellations through the website following the Government briefing on Saturday evening’. 

After the announcement of revised guidelines, which included the mandatory wearing of face coverings in shops and on public transport, there was an increase in cancellations through DesignMyNight of 14% compared to the previous Saturday (20 November). On Sunday 28, cancellations were even higher when compared to the previous week, reaching a 15% increase.

The rate of growth in cancellations slowed to 2% week-on-week on Monday 29 but rose again to 5% on Tuesday 30 compared to the previous week. 

“With the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Health and Social Care both stressing that there is no reason to cancel Christmas parties, or Christmas outings in general, we would advise all hospitality operators to maintain their visibility, to continue to promote their offerings and to highlight the protocols in place to protect guests’ health,” says DesignMyNight marketing manager Leighanne Bent. 

Higher end independents that are less reliant on corporate bookings over the festive period would appear to be less exposed, with a number of such restaurants reporting no drops in bookings, including Hove’s The Little Fish Market and The Elephant in Torquay.  

“We haven’t seen a spike. There’s no panic at all as far as I can see,” says The Elephant chef patron Simon Hulstone. “I understand that it is out there and there is some concern but there’s no evidence of how dangerous it is so we’re iust going to carry on as usual.” 

Stacey Sherwood-French, the co-owner of JÖRO in Sheffield, says she hasn’t seen any changes since the news of the new variant, but that there had been an increase in guests emailing us in advance to ask what Covid safe measures are in place. 

“We missed out on one Christmas, to lose another would be devastating,” she says. “It’s a worry for sure but all we can do is keep our diners safe as best we can, we have had pretty good practise at this point.”

Related topics: Business & Legislation, Restaurant

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