Britain continues to eat-out despite closures and weather

16 March 2018

  • Like-for-likes sales up 0.2% nationally, against February 2017
  • But managed pub groups outstrip casual dining chains 

The British public continued to go out to eat and drink in February – in spite of the cold weather and the negative media stories around restaurant chain closures. Latest figures from the Coffer Peach Business Tracker show that collective like-for-like sales for managed pub and restaurant groups were slightly up 0.2% compared to the same month last year.

However, restaurant brands had a much rougher month than pubs, with collective like-for-likes down 1.5%, in contrast to a 1.3% increase for managed pubs. London fared better than the rest of GB, with like-for-likes up 0.8% compared to flat trading across the rest of the country.

'Most of the effects of the major snow disruption will show up in the March data, but even so, to come out effectively even for February as a whole shows the resilience of both the sector and consumers,' said Peter Martin, vice president of CGA, the business insight consultancy that produces the Tracker, in partnership with Coffer Group and RSM.

'What’s not clear is how the bad publicity around certain high profile restaurant brands closing sites has affected the market or individual choices,' he said. 

Mark Sheehan, managing director of Coffer Corporate Leisure, said: 'Contrary to media reports the eating and drinking out market remains stable, as these figures show. The restaurant sector has had terrible press over the past few weeks but in reality, consumers are still eating out. We also continue to see pub operators out performing restaurants.'

CGA’s BrandTrack consumer research also shows frequency of eating out remaining stable. 'Where people choose to go in a competitive market where choice has never been greater is different matter, however. Our consumer research shows people are more willing than ever to try somewhere new,' added Martin.

Paul Newman, head of leisure and hospitality at RSM, said that the snow that affected many parts of the country earlier this month could not have come at a worse time for the sector. 'Operators would have been looking to shore up their finances ahead of March’s quarterly rent demands. This deadline typically coincides with a working capital low point for many and on the back of February’s weak data, could be the catalyst for further site closures and restructurings,' he added.

CGA’s latest Business Leaders survey showed that senior executives are expecting more business failures this year and a pull back on expansion plans. 'This is already reflected in the Coffer Peach numbers,' concluded Peter Martin. 'New sites are still being opened but casual dining chains in the cohort are now rolling out at a rate below that of the pub companies. Over the last 12 months, total sales growth, reflecting new openings as well as closures, was 3.8% for restaurant groups compared to 4.3% for managed pub and bar chains.'

'Although the February numbers will bring some comfort to operators, they are still below inflation, and with the extra business costs around property, people and food prices, it remains a challenging trading environment,' Martin said.

Underlying like-for-like growth for the companies in the Tracker cohort, which represents both large and small groups, was running at 1.1% for the 12 months to the end of February, including 0.4% for casual dining chains and 1.4% for pub and bar groups.

The Coffer Peach Tracker industry sales monitor for the UK pub, bar and restaurant sector collects and analyses performance data from 39 operating groups, and is recognised as the established industry benchmark.