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65% of publicans have reduced staffing levels

65 per cent of VFI publicans have reduced staffing levels in the last 12 months while 73 per cent have reduced staff working hours, according to a new survey by Ask Chilli commissioned by the VFI for its recent 38th AGM held in the Slieve Russel in Cavan.

The labour cuts come on the back of a seven per cent decline in sales in the first quarter of 2011 following a 13 per cent decline in 2010. It’s estimated that a pub a day is closing now and the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland has estimated that 7,000 on-trade jobs were lost in 2010.

The Ask Chilli survey (carried out last month) also revealed that more than seven in 10 VFI members have put on extra events and activities to attract customers while 62 per cent have reduced prices in the past year and three in five of those serving food have reduced the price of their food offering.

Cost-saving measures have been introduced by 73 per cent of VFI members over the past 12 months including reducing utility bills, installing energy-saving measures, reducing staff costs and reducing trading hours.

44 per cent of vintners saw ‘value’ as the key driver to attracting more business while 19 per cent reckoned it was ‘service’ and 14 per cent ‘events’.

Some 300 attended the Cavan conference where Options 4 Recovery, the Federation’s blueprint for the future of the pub trade, was launched.

VFI President Gerry Mellett, who owns and runs a rural pub in Ardattin, County Carlow, outlined just how bad the situation has become.

“Unfortunately these statistics do not make for enjoyable reading and confirm our worst fears,” he stated, “When compared with last year the key findings are even more frightening.

“Last year 41 per cent of our members had reduced staffing levels – this year that is up to 65 per cent. Last year 66 per cent had made changes to the working hours of existing staff – this year that is also up, to 73 per cent. Things have got worse but they have also got worse for a lot of other people.”

However he revealed a determination within Federation membership to take the lead on the recovery: “Publicans must act now to ensure survival by cutting costs but ensuring top-class service and value at the same time.

“These research figures also show there is a resolve within our members to carry the good fight. Our members are working very hard to stay afloat and they are looking at every angle.

“Our members are also cutting costs wherever they can – from energy-saving light bulbs, to sensors on lights and water, to reducing local sponsorships – they are looking at everything.”

The two main issues VFI members wanted the Government to address on their behalf were banning the practice of below-cost selling (85 per cent) and reducing local rates (79 per cent).

“Yes we want help from Government with the introduction of some simple measures but we also appreciate that we need to take a look from within,” he concluded.

Former C&C and Tesco Chief Executive Maurice Pratt was the guest speaker at this year’s event.

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