Operators report flat like-for-like sales at Christmas and New Year

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Like-for-like sales at Britain’s bar, pub and restaurant groups were marginally down over Christmas and New Year, according to latest figures from the Coffer Peach Business Tracker.

They dipped by 0.1% over the six-week period to January 7, making them almost level with last Christmas. Managed pub groups saw collective like-for-likes up 0.6% on last year while restaurants were down 1%.

Peter Martin, vice president of CGA, the business insight consultancy that produces the Tracker in partnership with Coffer Group and RSM, said: “The public still went out to eat and drink, but essentially it was a repeat of last Christmas. Better trading in the second half of the festive season, when people were mainly off work, failed to provide enough of a boost to beat 2016’s overall numbers.

“It looks like people were more willing to go out to drink than eat this festive season, with drink-led pubs and bars having the best of trading. Across the managed pub market, drink sales were up 1.8%, while food was down 1.4%. Food-led operations, both pubs and restaurants, generally had a worse Christmas than 2016.”

Although London and the rest of the country both overall turned out flat, London saw a bigger contrast in fortunes between restaurants and pubs, with casual dining down 2.6% inside the M25 and pubs up 1.5%.

Peter added: “Looking across the six-week period, the run-up to the holidays saw generally poor trading, with the snow in particular hitting sales. Trading picked up in the last three weeks either side of the core holidays. Every year the Christmas period seems to be coming more concentrated.

“Although the sector will be disappointed it didn’t beat 2016’s numbers, the results do reflect the flat trading we’ve seen in the market over the past year – and they also come on the back of increases for the past two Christmases.”

Total sales growth among the 37 companies in the Tracker cohort was 3.4% compared to the festive period last year, reflecting the continuing if much more subdued effect of new openings.

Mark Sheehan, managing director of Coffer Corporate Leisure, said: “Despite very negative press particularly associated with restaurant sector trading, the eating and drinking out market is not in free fall.

“Trading over the important December trading period was flat with pubs trading better than restaurants. There is no question that the trading environment is competitive but these numbers are not the car crash that has been widely portrayed.

“2018 will be a challenging year and we expect to see bars and pubs trading more robustly than restaurants.”

Paul Newman, head of leisure and hospitality at RSM, added: “Increased drinks spend across the managed pub market over the festive period was not enough to offset disappointing casual dining like-for-likes, rounding off a flat year for the sector and failing to give operators Christmas cheer.

“Since the New Year a number of high-profile brands have already announced site closure plans and with consumer confidence waning and uncertainty ahead of Brexit, we expect our restructuring teams to be kept busy in the months ahead.”

The Coffer Peach Tracker industry sales monitor for the UK pub and restaurant sector collects and analyses performance data from 37 operating groups, including Stonegate Pub Company, Novus, Living Ventures, Loungers, New World Trading Co, The Snug Bar, TGI Fridays, Spirit Group, Mitchells & Butlers, Whitbread, Pizza Express, The Restaurant Group, Casual Dining Group, Young’s, Hall & Woodhouse, Byron, Laine Pub Co and All Star Lanes.

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