Traditionally a quiet month for the hospitality industry, January is the time when many businesses plan for the year ahead or recover after the busy festive season, but evidence has shown that many restaurants and pubs have been experiencing an unusual boom in trade.
Last month, restaurant reservations and online marketing specialist Livebookings, processed a record 1.48m covers across 9,000 restaurants. Saturday 21 January was also its most successful day ever with 84,000 bookings.
Anecdotally, many chefs and restaurateurs have reported a busy month while latest sales figures from 23 major restaurant and pub groups, gathered for the monthly Coffer Peach Business Tracker, show that although sales dropped 2.1 per cent on December 2011, they were actually up 2.2 per cent on those for January 2011.
Peter Martin of Peach Factory, which produces the report in partnership with KPMG, UBS and the Coffer Group, said the market should feel positive about the latest figures, particularly as they follow what he describes as a 'bumper December' and are in a traditionally quiet trading month.
The figures are also still up on those for the same period the previous year which benefited from a bounce-back in spending after a snowy December which saw many people cancel plans to go out .
“Restaurant and pub operators are generally optimistic about prospects for their businesses this year," he said. "Despite all the economic difficulties of the past two years, the market has shown real resilience, with the public still willing to go out to eat and drink."
“Concerns over UK consumer spending are not new, and are likely to linger," added Jonathan Leinster, head of UBS European Leisure Research.
"Nevertheless, the operational performance of most pub groups has been relatively solid of late, with two-year growth last negative in May 2011. Despite rising unemployment, consumers are still happy to allocate discretionary spend to eating and drinking out."
Extra promotional activity in the month and some firms holding off on Christmas parties in January have helped keep the sector buoyant. Despite efforts to wean the public off discounting, a review by Restaurant magazine found that many casual dining chains were planning big promotions in January.
Gondola Holding's Pizza Express, whose figures are included in the Coffer Peach Business Tracker, offered some coffees and desserts for as little as 12p in the first week of January while many restaurants owned by Tragus, such as Cafe Rouge and Strada were offering discounts which effectively halved the price of main courses.
Independents did the same. Cyril Eustice, owner of Rosewarne Manor in Cornwall said January had been busier than expected, but that promotional activity during the month and a flurry of events had been responsible for the volume of trade.
"We were a little busier than we usually are in January, but a lot of it was down to us doing some dining promotions and holding funeral receptions and business meetings which came around in the first two weeks of the month," he told BigHospitality.