Bar sales bounce back but still significantly lag pre-Covid levels

Volume of retail sales for all businesses rose by 0.7% in February compared to January, and by 3.6% compared to a year earlier

Spending in bars surged almost 13 per cent in February, but sales still remained significantly below pre-Covid levels, new data from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) shows.

The volume of retail sales for all businesses rose by 0.7 per cent in the month, and by 3.6 per cent in the year since February 2022.

Excluding motor trades, there was a monthly volume decrease of 0.1 per cent in February, while on an annual basis, retail volumes were 0.5 per cent higher.

The sectors with the largest annual increases in volume were bars (12.8 per cent), motor trades (9.1 per cent), clothing, footwear and textiles (6 per cent), and fuel (4.1 per cent).


Large annual decreases were seen in other retail sales (-13.2 per cent), department stores (-8.7 per cent), and in food, beverages and tobacco (-7 per cent).

Compared with pre-Covid February 2020, the highest increases in volume were seen in clothing, footwear and textiles (51.5 per cent), hardware, paints and glass (16.3 per cent), pharmaceuticals, medical and cosmetic articles (15.5 per cent), and electrical goods (11.7 per cent).

The largest volume decreases during the same period occurred in bars (-15.2 per cent), department stores (-12.3 per cent), and books, newspapers and stationery (-11.3 per cent).

The largest monthly volume increases were recorded in bars (4.7 per cent) and in hardware paints and glass (2.5 per cent). The highest monthly volume decreases were in furniture and lighting (-11.4 per cent), and in books, newspapers and stationery (-5 per cent).

The value of retail sales was 1.8 per cent higher in February than January, and was 11.1 per cent higher than a year earlier. Excluding motor trades, the value of retail sales rose by 0.9 per cent in the month and rose by 7.9 per cent on an annual basis.

Barry Whelan, chief executive of Excel Recruitment, said the figures suggest retailers are cutting back on discretionary spending.

“Over the past year there’s been a steep drop in retail sales in department stores, food, beverages and tobacco,” he said. “And despite the increase in bar sales figures last month, bar sales are still 15.2 per cent lower than their pre-Covid-19 level in February 2020.

“Though February showed a slight uptick in the volume of retail sales, the dip in sales in certain retail sectors suggests that hard-pressed consumers are cutting back on discretionary spending as they struggle to make ends meet. This pull-back on discretionary spending is taking its toll on retailers and bars.”

He added that staff shortages and higher salary costs last year put many employers in the retail and hospitality sector “under pressure”. This “has continued into 2023″, with significant salary increases being paid to attract new hires and retain current staff.

“Salary increases of 3-8 per cent were recorded in the retail sector in 2022,” he said. “Wage growth has been strong in the grocery retail sector, particularly amongst those working in fresh food. Ireland’s hospitality sector is still in the middle of a major staffing crisis – and this has put upward pressure on salaries there.

“The average salary of a bar manager today is €47,000 – up from €45,000 in 2022. The average salary for a member of bar staff has increased from €28,000 last year to €30,000 today. Employers across the board are grappling with high employee expectations around pay. More than half of workers expect a pay rise in 2023.”

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter