[REPORT] The catering industry's debts are rising

After weeks of total closure and a difficult return to business with strict sanitary requirements, the catering industry is trying to make up for lost time and profits. According to the BIG InfoMonitor Debtor Register data, the sector's arrears during April and May increased by over 23 million PLN (3.6%), to 671 million PLN, the fastest increase in debts was observed in catering companies and mobile meal sales points (by 10%). Do the return of customers, holidays, easier access to employees and the recent noticeable increase in prices have a chance to improve the situation of restaurateurs?

The catering industry is one of those that has been badly affected by the coronavirus pandemic. After weeks of complete closure, not all establishments decided to return to business on the basis of rules that took into account the far-reaching restrictions of the sanitary regime introduced. Some entrepreneurs calculated that the necessary organisational changes require too much investment, with a significantly reduced number of potential customers, which anyway limits the current revenues of the outlets.

- Few restaurants, already operating in such a model, continued their operations thanks to meals offered on take-away or with delivery. In the case of many, the introduction of such a formula was not possible at all - either due to the necessity to incur additional costs or due to an inadequate offer - says Sławomir Grzelczak, President of BIG InfoMonitor.

According to the estimates of the Polish Economic Institute, the closure of stationary catering outlets resulted in a decrease in the industry's turnover by 80-90 percent. It should not come as a surprise that many companies not prepared for such a market situation were forced to close down their operations. Those that are still operating most often indicate, among the barriers to doing business, uncertainty about the general economic situation (66.6% in June and 29.4% a year ago) - results from a survey of the economic situation carried out by the Central Statistical Office. However, the most significant decrease was observed in the burden of the barrier related to the shortage of skilled workers (from 25.8% to 7.1%).

According to the Central Statistical Office (GUS), in June the catering industry showed a much less unfavourable attitude than a month earlier. The general economic climate index is at the level of minus 29.5 (minus 66 in May). Its improvement is noted by 19.2% of the surveyed companies, while the deterioration is 48.7%. A month ago these values were 6.7% and 72.7% respectively.

Guests hungry but careful

Although the view of crowded promenades and restaurant gardens is becoming more and more common, research conducted for BIG InfoMonitor shows that in reality, after the economy was defrosted, guests did not throw themselves into their favourite restaurants. Only 5 percent of them reactivate the quarantine and use the restaurants more often than before the pandemic, almost one in four returned to their previous habits and stand in the city as before. However, one third are less frequent in the restaurants than before the pandemic, and as many as 39% of the respondents declared that they did not go to the restaurants at all within two months of reopening.

The backlogs are growing all the time

As shown by the BIG InfoMonitor Debtor Register data, many representatives of the industry managed to deal with the arrears last year. The number of companies delaying payment of invoices and loan instalments dropped from 9698 in March to 9453 in December 2019, and the share of restaurant companies with payment problems dropped from 7.7% to 7.3%.

March 2020 brought a very clear reversal of this trend. Although interest remained at the December level, the number of debtors rose to 9830.

Data from May show that many catering entrepreneurs also failed to cope in the first months of the restrictions - the number of companies with outstanding debts increased to over 10.3 thousand, and the percentage of unreliable debtors to 7.6%.

If we take into account the total amount of backlogs in the restaurant industry, we see a steady upward trend. Between March 2019 and March 2020, it increased by more than 14%, to PLN 647.4 million, and in the next two months it increased by 3.6%. In the following two months it increased by 3.6%, i.e. an additional PLN 23 million. For comparison, in the whole economy, the backlog of enterprises in the periods in question grew at a slower rate of 9% and 2.3%, respectively.

The most - 10 percent each - increased during the lockdown of the backlog of catering companies and mobile catering outlets. At the end of May they amounted to PLN 45.8 million and PLN 15.2 million respectively. However, the largest amount rests on restaurants and stationary catering outlets - over 550.1 million PLN, and here is also the largest percentage of companies that delay settlements with suppliers and banks - 8.5 percent.

Taste of failure and uncertain future

- The crisis caused by the pandemic has had a huge impact on all sectors of the economy. Many entrepreneurs, regardless of the industry represented, found it difficult to find themselves in new conditions. In recent weeks, the situation has become a little bit more stable, but still far from normal, and prices are also rising strongly - says Sławomir Grzelczak, President of BIG InfoMonitor.

According to the Central Statistical Office (GUS), the prices of consumer goods and services in June 2020, compared to the same month last year, increased by 3.3%, but in the case of restaurants and hotels the difference is much more pronounced, reaching 6%.- It seems that for the holiday Poles are able to forget about the pandemic for a while and hence the view of crowded promenades and premises in holiday resorts. But after returning home it is reminded that the virus does not give up and unemployment is growing. As a result, for fear of getting infected, as well as to save money, customers do not use many services as willingly as before. This is shown by our research. In addition, the HoReCa industry is still very moderately offered by companies that have so far suspended the organization of various business events. The situation in the industry is not easy," says Sławomir Grzelczak.