Tough September trading hits restaurant, pub and bar groups

16 October 2017

  • Like-for-likes sales down 0.9 per cent nationally, compared to last September
  • London restaurants worst hit with collective like-for-likes down 3.2 per cent

Britain’s managed pubs, bars and restaurants saw like-for-like sales decline 0.9 per cent in September as the public appeared to pull back on spending on eating and drinking out, latest figures from the Coffer Peach Business Tracker reveal.

Restaurants in London were worst hit, suffering a 3.2 per cent fall in collective like-for-like sales compared to September last year. Across the sector, trading was generally better outside the M25, down just 0.7 per cent, compared to a fall of 1.6 per cent in the capital.

'The negative September numbers follow on from generally flat trading across the summer – August was ahead just 0.2 per cent, with London again feeling the pinch more – and will do little to help already fragile business confidence among operators,' said Peter Martin, vice president of CGA, the business insight consultancy that produces the Tracker, in partnership with Coffer Group and RSM.

CGA’s latest Business Confidence Survey, published earlier this month, showed that while 66 per cent of bosses in the sector were optimistic about prospects for their own company, only a third (34 per cent) were upbeat about prospects for the market as a whole, down from 43 per cent in May.

'Rising costs around property, tax, people and raw materials have increased pressure on margins already this year in what is an ever competitive market. Faltering sales will only add to sector concerns,' added Martin.

'Interestingly, these weaker eating-out numbers come in a month when retail sales grew, fuelled in part by higher food prices in supermarkets, which may have helped dampened out-of-home eating.

'We have also seen the British Tourism Authority announce record numbers of foreign visitors and an increase in ‘staycations’. However, these do not seem to have helped London, where domestic tourism appears to be down,' Martin observed.

'Both pubs and restaurants had a tough September, but it is worth noting that pubs and bars in London traded relatively better, down just 0.5 per cent, while restaurants away from the capital actually saw like-for-likes grow marginally last month, up 0.2 per cent.'

Total sales growth in September among the 38 companies in the Tracker cohort was 2.6 per cent, compared to the same month last year, reflecting the continuing if much more subdued effect of new openings. Underlying like-for-like growth for the sector, for the 12 months to the end of September, was running at 1.2 per cent, with total sales over the 12 months up 4.1 per cent.

'The one positive point is that consumers are still going out to eat and drink, and although sales are sluggish and hard won at least they are not suffering the way other parts of the economy are, such as car sales,' Martin added.

Trevor Watson, executive director at Davis Coffer Lyons, said:

'These figure show that the industry is under cumulative pressure not just from the headwinds of increased costs, but also from weakening consumer confidence. The property market for good sites is proving to be resilient at present, however, there is no doubt that the months ahead will be a testing time for weaker operators particularly those in high cost locations. We expect to see an increase in availability of sites generally during the autumn.'

Paul Newman, head of leisure and hospitality at RSM, added:

'There’s no getting away from the fact that September has been a fairly dismal month for casual dining operators, especially in the capital. These sales numbers continue to be underpinned by the growing influence of food delivery and fierce discounting between brands. Operators will hope that a focus on premiumisation over the festive period will help to claw back some of this lost margin.'

The Coffer Peach Tracker industry sales monitor for the UK pub and restaurant sector collects and analyses monthly performance data from 38 operating groups, and is recognised as the established industry benchmark. 

Pub and restaurant group sales performance for last 12 months

  Oct  Nov  Dec  Jan  Feb  Mar  Apr  May  Jun  Jul  Aug  Sep 
LFLs   -1.0%  1.1%  1.1%  1.9%  1.7%  -0.5%  4.4%  -0.4%  0.6%  0.6%  0.2%  -0.9%
Total  1.9%  4.1%  4.4%  4.4%  4.7%  2.1%  7.4%  2.4%  3.7%  3.7%  3.5%  2.6%

Source: Coffer Peach Business Tracker