More drinking and less eating over Christmas for restaurant and pub groups

Britain’s managed pub and restaurant groups saw collective like-for-like sales marginally down by 0.1% over the six-week Christmas and New Year period, according to latest figures from the Coffer Peach Business Tracker.

“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,” said Peter Martin, vice president of CGA, the business insight consultancy that produces the Tracker, in partnership with Coffer Group and RSM.

The results, which cover the six weeks up to January 7, show that managed pub groups did better than casual dining restaurants, delivering a small increase in trade with collective like-for-likes up 0.6% on last year. Restaurant chains saw collective like-for-likes down 1.0%.

“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,” added Martin.

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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%.

“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,” said Martin.

“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,” he added.

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, and is recognised as the established industry benchmark.

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