Muted St. Patrick’s Day Offers Bar Owners Some Hope
(Bloomberg) -- For the ravaged bar industry, St. Patrick’s Day is offering a little hope.
Pubs are seeing reservations book up. Outdoor space is being used to bring back some normalcy, with Irish bands and bagpipers returning for a holiday that is the biggest revenue generator of the year for many establishments. The Chicago River is once again dyed green.
But expectations are also muted with Covid-19 restrictions still in place. Total spending on the holiday is expected to be $5.1 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. That’s about $1 billion less than the projection it made for 2020 before the pandemic arrived.
At McSorley’s Old Ale House, a nearly 170-year-old pub in Manhattan, owner Gregory de la Haba has actually been telling customers to avoid the bar. Still, at least a dozen regulars plan to show up, which would top last year—by one.
“I don’t want a crowd outside the bar,” de la Haba says. “The last thing we want is for the city to hold us up as an example as a superspreader.”
A year ago, St. Patrick’s Day became the first major consumer spending event to be upended by the pandemic, with celebrations canceled and many bars closed. Now, pubs have reopened, but parades are still on hold. Only 10% of Americans who plan to celebrate the day said they will go to a bar or restaurant, down from 27% in 2020, this year’s NRF survey said.
At Ryan’s Daughter in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, owner Jim Gerding’s table reservations have booked up quickly, albeit with restrictions limiting capacity to 35% and a closing time cut to 11 p.m. He expects to see only about 20% of the sales in previous years.
“I will not be looking for a win in the financial power and the profitability of the day,” Gerding says. “This business is a long way away from becoming profitable again.”
Emerald Loop Bar & Grill in downtown Chicago plans to put out a sign encouraging customers to go elsewhere instead of wait in line, according to bar owner Kevin Vaughan. The bar also scrapped its drinking packages to avert over-consumption.
Preventive measures aside, this St. Patrick’s Day could at least be the most lucrative day for bars so far this year, with almost 80% of states allowing indoor dining, according to Matthew Crompton, client solutions director at Nielsen CGA. That would follow booze sales at bars and restaurants during last year’s holiday plunging 87%.
At Hailey’s Harp and Pub in Metuchen, N.J. bands, dancers and bagpipes will return, according to owner Mo Atzbi. Boosted by newly added outdoor tables, the bar hopes to earn 75% of its normal sales on Wednesday, when temperatures could surpass 50F.
Bar closures also hit alcohol makers hard, although gains in home consumption have helped offset this. Jameson Irish Whiskey, a St. Patrick’s Day staple, expects sales during the holiday to be “comparable” to pre-pandemic levels, according to Andrew Eis, marketing engagement director at parent company Pernod Ricard.
While Jameson sales through on-premise channels such as bars are recovering, Eis expects consumers to sit back a little longer. The brand will “double down on the importance of on-premise” for the next St. Patrick’s Day, Eis says.
“A lot of people will wait for a much, much longer period of time until they’re comfortable to return,” he says.
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