That’s according to the latest Coffer Peach Business Tracker report for April, which showed overall sales in the eating out sector were down 0.8% for the month, compared with a 0.6% rise in March.
The overall drop in sales undermined the growth in the casual dining trade, according to the report. However, London bucked the trend and outperformed the rest of Britain with like-for-like sales up 1% for the whole category, against a 1.3% fall for businesses outside the M25.
CGA Peach vice-president Peter Martin said: “April’s performance can, in part, be put down to the cold weather, to Easter being in March rather than April this year, and also the general slowdown in the wider economy in the run-up to the Brexit vote.
‘Market has been flat’
“But, the underlying fact is that the overall market has been essentially flat since the start of the year, with April’s numbers coming to zero in February and only a small uptick in March.”
The cold weather would also explain why restaurants outperformed pubs, as poor weather tends to see customers favour restaurants, he added.
Sentiment from the sector at the start of the year was that 2016 would be tough, which seemed to be panning out, Martin said.
Trevor Watson, executive director, valuations, at Davis Coffer Lyons, said: “The global business environment is now learning to deal with a period of long-term uncertainty.
‘Tata Steel, BHS and Austin Reed’
“This has led to the UK economic indicators weakening – it’s not just about Brexit. Announcements from Tata Steel, BHS and Austin Reed are all leading to more cautious consumer sentiment.
“Against this background, the latest Coffer Peach Business Tracker statistics are only to be expected. With the number of new openings continuing to exceed closures, the pressure on operators is unlikely to diminish for the rest of the year.”
The 12-month like-for-like moving average growth rate for the sector had also slowed, explained Jarrod Castle, leisure analyst at UBS Investment Research.
“It has come in at 1% in April, compared with March at 1.2%, February at 1.1% and January at 1.3%,” he said.