The cost of eating out in Britain's branded high street restaurants, pubs and hotels increased by 7.5% during 2010, pushing up the average price of a dish across all courses to an all-time high of £6.78, according to a new survey.
The report from Horizons, the market analyst, suggests that a three-course meal in a pub now costs an average of £15.45, up 4.1% on a year ago, while the price in restaurants has risen to £20.92, up 2.8%.
Hotels saw a 3.8% year-on-year rise to £26.26.
Horizons' Menurama survey, which analyses menu trends across the top 115 hotel, restaurant and pub brands, showed that average price of a three-course adult meal on a menu rose to £18.94 in 2010, up from £18.03 in 2009 - a 5.1% rise year-on-year.
Paul Backman, Horizons' services director, said: "This hike in menu prices suggests that while food ingredients may be cheaper in the short-term, taking the year as a whole the trend is that costs are still rising and operators are having to factor this in to their menu prices. There will also be an element of raising menu prices to pay for the widening use of discounts and money-off vouchers.
"Operators are trying to maintain their margins by using their buying power to keep cost pressures under control and re-engineering menus to bring average costs down. While these price increases seem high, meal deals and discounts are being used to lower prices and drive consumers to choose higher margin alternatives. Furthermore, this research doesn't take into account the rise in VAT in January, so menu prices are likely to have risen again in the first quarter of 2011."
The report found that menus are also changing to take into account current consumer trends, with use of fish declining and being replaced by cheaper, vegetable-based dishes.
The survey also found that more operators are serving breakfast, some 58% compared with 44% in 2009, with porridge now found on a range of menus from Garfunkel's to O'Neill's.
Horizons said that sharing dishes continue to gain in prominence and were not confined to starters but are also evident in main courses and desserts.
The report said: "A significant number of menus are featuring smaller and half portions to appeal to both health and value-conscious consumers. Examples include half a portion of hand battered fish and chips at Table Table, Plantation platter at Harvester and smaller portions of main courses at half price at Las Iguanas."
Other menu trends highlighted by the report included, the continuing decrease in specified weights for red meat dishes on menus; the mentioning of ethical sourcing is becoming more commonplace; and the growth in the use of Fairtrade ingredients.