Warm March boosts on-trade as drinks dominate sales

Warm weather across March provided a welcome boosts to pub and restaurants across the UK, the latest data has shown, with collective sales in the managed pub and restaurant sector up 3.8% compared to last year and in line with 2017 figures.

A view from behind an typical English pub bar

The latest Coffer Peach Business Tracker saw pub sales up 4.0% and managed restaurants up 3.6% on the same period last year, when the UK was hit by the ‘Beast from the East’ causing sales to fall 3.1%.

Karl Chessell, director of CGA, the business insight consultancy that produces the Tracker, in partnership with Coffer Group and RSM, said the latest figures were a relief as the sector regained lost ground.

“The latest figures have essentially got the market back on an even keel, as underlying like-for-like growth for the Tracker cohort, which represents both large and small groups, reached its highest level since July 2017, running at 1.5% for the 12 months to the end of March, a marked improvement on the 0.9% at the end of February,” Chessell said.

London, which saw the greatest disruption last year, recovered more ground, with like-for-likes up 5.5% this March, compared to 3.3% across the rest of the UK.

Drink sales continued to see the biggest uplift, rising 5.7% reinforcing the underlying trend of drinks sales outstrip food sales, as food grew 2.7%.

However, Chessell added that the biggest test of the recovery would be seen in April’s figures, which will include the Easter holidays.

“Last Easter was a bumper time for the sector with sales ahead 5.9% on the holiday weekend the year before, boosted by the fact that many people didn’t go out in March. The pressure to match that this time is now on,” he said.

Saxon Moseley, senior manager at RSM said this year’s later Easter break and the possibility of progress on Brexit, was prompting “cautious optimism” that consumer would loosen their purse strings.

Meanwhile although retail footfall rose in March compared to the same period last year, in both shopping centres (1.4%) and the high street (2.5%), the higher footfall has not translated into higher spending, according to the the BRS

Meanwhile although retail footfall rose in March compared to the same period last year, in both shopping centres (1.4%) and the high street (2.5%), the higher footfall has not translated into higher spending, according to the the BRS Springboard Footfall and Vacancies monitor.

“Last months’s rise of +1.4% should be regarded “as an exceptional circumstance relating to a dramatic slump in footfall in March 2018 of -6%”, Diane Wehrle, Marketing and Insights Director, Springboard said, as she pointed out that shopping centres had seen 24 consecutive months of decline in footfall.

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