Trading at leading pub and restaurant groups slipped in March as operators curtailed their aggressive discounting.
The Coffer Peach Business Tracker survey found like-for-like sales across 15 major pub and restaurant group fell 0.4 per cent in March compared to the same month last year. However, the figure does show a 2.9 per cent increase in sales on February.
Peter Martin, founder of Peach Factory, said: "The results are a reminder that trading remains tough, although there is some evidence that the chains are starting to pull back on promotions that fuelled much of last year's growth."
The decline in March ends a period of nine consecutive months of steadily positive like-for-like trading.
However, Mark Sheehan, managing director of Coffer Corporate Leisure, suggested the numbers were positive: "With the decline in discounting in the eating out market the numbers have to be put in context. They are actually pretty strong."
He believed the move away from discounting showed a greater level of confidence among the larger player's and that this was also reflected in their much more aggressive expansion activities.
Difficulties could be on the horizon though as Sheehan pointed to the budget announcements of increased alcohol duty, which will likely affect trading at the more wet-led operators.
He added: "We will follow with interest how the pre-election announcements regarding tax changes and National Insurance rises could impact consumer spending more widely across the sector."
Although the World Cup will likely boost trading during the summer - the extent dependent on England's performance - Martin cautioned: "The big test will be how the sector performs from now on in comparison with what was perhaps a better than expected sales during the summer and autumn of 2009."
The Coffer Peach Business Tracker figures are produced by Peach Factory in partnership with KPMG, UBS and the Coffer Group and monitor performance across the UK eating and drinking-out sector.