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Britain’s managed restaurant and pub groups saw sales slip in April, according to the latest figures from the Coffer Peach Business Tracker. It showed collective like-for-likes down 1.2% on the same month last year – with earlier Easter holidays seen as the main factor.

“Easter, which is always a busy time for the eating and drinking out market, last year fell in mid-April, while this time it straddled March and April. This will certainly have had an effect on sales comparisons, and looks like to have outweighed the boost to trade that the hot spell at the end of the month will have brought to the pub sector, in particular,” said Karl Chessell, Business Unit Director of Food & Retail at CGA, the business insight consultancy that produces the Tracker, in partnership with Coffer Group and RSM.

London fared better than the rest of Britain, with April like-for-likes marginally up by 0.2% against a 1.6% fall for outside the M25. There was little difference, however, between the performance of managed pubs and restaurants, with the former down 1.2% and the latter down 1.1%.

“The only good news is that April trading was much better than the disastrous, snow-hit trading seen in March when sector like-for-like sales tumbled 3.1%,” added Chessell. “The overall feeling is that we are in an essentially flat market.”

David Coffer, Chairman of The Coffer Group, said, “The results reflect the general feeling of political and economic uncertainty translating into a stay at home mentality. We believe, however, the recent change in the weather and the ‘royal wedding feel good factor’ will lift the mood nationally and hopefully lead to a stronger summer.

“We also feel the ‘let’s bash restaurants syndrome’ expressed constantly in the media is unhelpful on the basis that 'nobody wants a loser’. This view is definitely being overcooked, despite reflecting the casualties in groups who have over-expanded. Nevertheless, we are finding demand for restaurants and licensed premises to be as strong as ever with an increasing number of concepts, designs looking for sites. This adjustment was long overdue and historically such a change has led to an enriched sector with ever more sophisticated and imaginative offers and operators.”

Paul Newman, head of leisure and hospitality at RSM, said: “A drop in sales this April was inevitable given the earlier timing of Easter this year. A dip of only 1.2% will be viewed with cautious optimism especially when compared with the 4.2% fall in like-for-like retail sales announced for the same period. After enduring a long and hard winter, operators will hope that the uptick in sales on the back of the recent bank holiday scorcher marks the start of a sustainable shift in consumer confidence.”

Underlying like-for-like growth for the 39 companies in the Tracker cohort, which represents both large and small groups, was running at just 0.4% for the 12 months to the end of April.

Total sales growth across the cohort, which includes the effect of new openings, was 1.4% in April, reflecting the slowdown in roll-out plans, and running at 3.3% for the 12 months to the end of the month.

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.

(source: CGA)