Leading pub and restaurant chains have experienced a better start to the year than expected and clawed back some ground on December's snow hit trading figures.
The Coffer Peach Business Tracker, which monitors sales performance across 18 major pub and restaurant operators, including Mitchells & Butlers, Whitbread, Pizza Hut, Punch Pub Co, Gondola and Tragus, reported like-for-like sales up 10.7% in January on last year. Total sales, including new openings, were up 11.4%.
However, last January was, itself, hit by snowy weather and remains a slow month with like-for-like sales over the four weeks in January down 28.5% compared to December.
"The positive news this past month will be tempered by the fact that January last year was itself badly affected by snow with like-for-like sales then down 5% on 2009," said Peach Factory's Peter Martin.
"However, the double-digit recovery this year more than compensates for that and will encourage operators into hoping that this performance may be more than just a readjustment."
Jonathan Leinster, head of European leisure and tobacco research, at UBS Investment Bank, said that it appeared that the rise in VAT was a non-event for the eating-out sector. "We believe that most operators increased food prices with their autumn menus so only drinks prices would have appeared to customers to been affected by the VAT rise," he said.
"Some of this month's rise is a catch-up from a year ago and promotions would have been more effective this January when customers were snow-bound a year ago. On a two year basis, the compound annual growth in like-for-like sales has been 2.5% for January."
"Most of like-for-like growth in the last two years has been about price/mix in our opinion, but volume is beginning to stabilise. If the contributors to the Coffer Peach Business Tracker experienced price rises in line with Restaurant RPI less changes in VAT, then volume excluding snowy months, fell 0.5% in 2010 compared to 2.4% in 2009.
"Many operators have talked about customers trading up the menu in 2010, or adding starters or desserts to their main meal, rather than increased footfall."