Latest figures from the Coffer Peach Business Tracker show that collective like-for-like sales for the four days of Easter were up a healthy 5.9% compared to the Easter weekend last year. In contrast, like-for-likes across the sector fell 3.1% in March against the same month last year.
Snow in March hit trading right across the pub and casual dining market, with London like-for-likes down 4.3% and outside the M25 down 2.7%. Restaurant chains overall were down 5.0%, and although managed pubs fared slightly better they were still hit with a 2.0% decline in like-for-likes.
“It was a month to forget, with the only slight cheer coming for managed pubs outside of London which benefitted by people staying at home and away from work when the snow fell,” said Peter Martin, vice president of CGA, the business insight consultancy that produces the Tracker, in partnership with Coffer Group and RSM.
“Overall, March was bad news, so the uplift in sales over Easter weekend brought almost instant relief. Again all parts of the market benefitted,” added Martin.
Restaurant chains saw the biggest Easter uplift, with like-for-likes up 8.0% compared to the same four-day, Good Friday to Easter Monday, period last year. Pub group collective like-for-likes were ahead 4.6%.
“Although snow stops people travelling, the wet and dreary weather over Easter will have helped to tempt people, and in particular families off for the break, to go out to eat – so it should be no surprise that restaurants were the biggest beneficiaries,” said Martin.
“But it’s also worth remembering that Easter 2017 was not good for the market, with sales down on 2016, due to it falling late in April and being disjointed from school holidays in parts of the country. This year it wasn’t,” he added.
Trevor Watson, executive director of valuations at Davis Coffer Lyons said: “It is best not to draw too many conclusions from the March statistics as the adverse weather nationwide makes any meaningful comparison difficult. The Easter performance is, however, a lot stronger than many commentators might have predicted. We continue to see good demand for the right sites and the market continues to be active against a background of squeezed margins.”
Paul Newman, head of leisure and hospitality at RSM, said: “March was a brutal trading month for the eating and drinking out sector. The ‘Beast from the East’ persuaded people to forsake their local restaurant or hostelry for the warmth of home and delivery was unable to make up the shortfall. Although the weather was a big factor, these faltering like for like sales are also a clear indicator that the underling spending power of the consumer continues to waver.”
Underlying like-for-like growth for the companies in the Tracker cohort, which represents both large and small groups, was running at 0.8% for the 12 months to the end of March, down from 1.1% at the end of February, including flat trading for casual dining chains and 1.2% like-for-like growth for pub and bar groups. Total sales growth across the cohort, which includes the effect of new openings, was running at 3.8% year-on-year at the end of March.
“Although the public is still going out, their frequency of visits is not really changing, and with new openings still a feature of the market despite some recent high-profile closures, people have more choice and those visits are being spread across more brands. It’s extremely competitive out there, and so operators are right to remain cautious,” added Peter Martin.