Czechs back in spending mood, but many pubs and restaurants still struggling to make comeback

The warm weather and the easing of coronavirus restrictions have put Czechs back in a spending mood with the country’s largest bank Česká Sporitelna reporting a record number of transactions in June, beating even December’s Christmas sales. Despite the positive signal for the economy, pubs, bars and restaurants are still struggling to overcome the months of lockdown.

Few business were as hard hit by the coronavirus as those in the gastronomy sector. The country’s roughly 21,000 pubs, bars and restaurants were allowed to reopen in mid-May, but the expected rush of clients was short-lived and for a while it seemed that many Czechs were happy in their newly acquired habit of takeaways and bottled beer at home.

Now it finally seems that Czechs are once again ready to spend money on eating out. According to the daily Hospodarské noviny data from several thousand restaurants, bars and pubs that use the Dotykačka and Storyous cash register systems, show that their sales are growing. Compared to last year, June's sales increased by an average 15 percent, surpassing even the most profitable months of 2019, before the pandemic hit.

However by far not all establishments are celebrating. Around 12 percent of restaurants remain closed, others are facing a shortage of staff. Tereza Soukalová’s bistro is a case in point. She says she’s been looking for staff in vain since May.

Photo: Michael Browning,  Unsplash,  CC0

“We are short of waiters and a cook. Finding a cook is really hard because during the pandemic so many people in the gastronomy sector switched to other jobs and find they are happier with the work hours there. Because we are short of staff we have been forced to close on weekends and no longer serve meals in the evening.”

The fact that the majority of Czechs are holidaying at home this year is good news for local businesses. But the coronavirus shake-up on the job market has not benefitted the gastronomy sector. Vanda Vacínová who runs a restaurant in a wellness facility in Šumperk says that outside the big cities employees are even harder to find.

“It takes much longer to find employees in the gastronomy and hotel business these days and the uncertainty on the market regarding these sectors is very marked. People fear what the autumn will bring and people in the gastronomy sector would be first in line to take a hit.”

Sports bars have been able to make a fast comeback thanks to the football Euro championship and the Olympics and most are now making double what they were last year. Cafes and fast food outlets are also back in business, making 15 percent more than before the outbreak of the pandemic.

However revenues in the restaurant segment differ and individual businesses are opting for diverse strategies. While some have increased prices, others fear to discourage customers.

However, Hospodarské noviny says prices have slowly been climbing in most food outlets and those still hesitating will inevitably have to follow suit. For example, fried cheese, a Czech staple, cost an average of 118 crowns in 2019. According to Storyous data, this year it will cost an average of 135 crowns. The price of beer has risen on average by two crowns in the past two years –but a lot depends on where you have it. The most expensive beer is in Prague, where it costs 31 percent more than the national average.