Across the month like-for-likes were down an average 0.3% on the same month last year – ending a run of 23 consecutive months of positive growth for the sector.
Peter Martin, vice president of CGA Peach, which produces the tracker, in partnership with Coffer Group, Baker Tilly and UBS, said: “The particularly strong Easter showing right at the start of April will have helped overcome any disappointment among operators with the essentially flat performance in March – with restaurant chains having the most to feel happy about.”
'Slow but steady'
Casual dining brands collectively enjoyed a 7.6% like-for-like sales increase against Easter last year, with managed pub groups ahead 4.0%. The Coffer Peach figures compared trading over the four-days of April 3 to 6 this year with the 2014 holiday weekend of April 18 to 21.
Martin said: “Since Christmas sales growth has been slow but steady, so the Easter figures will be particularly welcome – and it may be that the more disappointing March numbers are down to people waiting for Easter to go out in force to eat and drink.”
“So far this year, restaurant groups have in general been out-performing pubs. In March they still saw like-for-likes edge up 0.7%, while pubs were down 0.7%, with pub restaurants particularly having a tougher time.
“This may in part be down to the investment cycle with the effect of much of the spending on pub revamps in recent years now beginning to wear off, while casual dining chains are now more active in rolling-out and reinvigorating their brands.”
London, which so far this year has been the brightest trading area, saw a similar like-for-like sales dip in March to the rest of the country. Total sales, reflecting new openings, across the Tracker cohort were ahead 3.7%, with casual dining groups up 6.6% in line with their increased roll-out activity.
Looking at the longer term trend, collective like-for-like sales for the full 12 months to the end of March were up 2.0% on the previous year.
Mark Sheehan, managing director of Coffer Corporate Leisure, said: “Eating and drinking out is benefiting from very long term growth. We have seen an evolution of the market with many structural changes - particularly with the continued re-positioning of many pubs. During March we saw a small decline in like-for-likes, however, this was compensated by strong Easter trading - both of which showing the influence the weather has on our sector. The long term trend remains very strong.”
Paul Newman, head of leisure and hospitality at Baker Tilly, added: “After weaker like-for-like trading figures in March, operators will be delighted with the significant increase in turnout for Easter. The reasonable weather combined with travel chaos caused by the rail and road disruption seems to have driven consumers to turn their attention to their local eateries, with restaurant sales up almost 13% year on year.
“For a holiday period traditionally associated with eating and drinking at home with family, Easter is now close to joining Christmas as a benchmark period in operators’ diaries. Its growing importance is indicative of a sector where investment in entrepreneurship has generated inspirational brands and changed not only the face of the UK high street, but also with it the UK consumers’ leisure habits.”