Christmas trading results highlight importance of early planning and value for money

By Luke Nicholls

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Christmas, Christmas tree

With price-sensitive diners making Christmas bookings later than ever, operators had to be prepared to offer quality food at a reasonable price
With price-sensitive diners making Christmas bookings later than ever, operators had to be prepared to offer quality food at a reasonable price
Restaurants and pubs across the UK have generally reported strong sales over the Christmas and New Year period, with the majority admitting that any festive successes were down to early planning, effective menus and more price-sensitive offerings.

From the operators that BigHospitality has heard from so far, one trend that emerged this time around was a drop in corporate Christmas party bookings, which was offset by an increase in walk-ins as businesses tightened budgets and consumers have become more casual in their dining habits.

Some businesses did find the festive period particularly tough, though, with one restaurant chain even telling us they felt ‘the Christmas spirit was lacking this year’. Here’s the feedback we’ve received so far…

Harrison's restaurant in Balham saw year-on-year sales up by around 10 per cent

Harrison's & Sam's Brasserie

Sam Harrison, owner of Harrison’s restaurant in Balham and Sam’s Brasserie in Chiswick, said: “We’ve come in much better than expected. At Harrison’s we’re up on last year by about 10 per cent.

“Sam’s Brasserie was flat and we felt we had to work a lot harder for it this time around. You could feel that people were cutting back on corporate Christmas bookings. Some of our regulars said that they weren’t having Christmas parties this year because their budget was a bit tighter.

“I thought we would be down because we were down on those big bookings, but we took a lot of last-minute business and more walk-ins across both sites. I think people are a bit more casual in their dining habits nowadays.

“I now just hope we will match January last year, but trade has become more unpredictable than ever.”

Drake & Morgan's flagship site The Folley benefited from early Christmas planning

Drake & Morgan

Natalia Di Palma, marketing manager of the six-strong City-based bar group Drake & Morgan, said: “We had an excellent Christmas. We started our Christmas campaign a little earlier than the prior year which has proven fruitful for us. We held price as well which was a key point of difference for us.

“Our websites were ready towards the end of July and our menus were made available at the earliest possible time. The business is very keen on pre-booked business so we worked really hard on our menu design to make sure our customers were offered what they wanted from the 2010 feedback.

“We’re now really optimistic about the year ahead.”

The Ed's Easy Diners that have been open for more than 12 months saw a like-for-like growth of 11 per cent

Ed's Easy Diner

Andrew Guy, managing director of the 14-strong Ed's Easy Diner group, said: "Christmas and New Year for us was very good, we’re really pleased with how it’s gone both in London and around the country. We were reasonably optimistic in our expectations going into the festive period, but we actually ended up surpassing those expectations.

"The eight Ed’s Easy Diners that were open last Christmas have seen like-for-like growth of 11 per cent. Fortunately we haven’t had a price change for about 18 to 20 months, which I think has been really beneficial for us. For the other six sites, the results we achieved were actually about 10 per cent better than our expectations.

"I’m very optimistic about the casual dining market in general for 2013, and for Ed's Easy Diner. We're coming off some pretty good numbers in 2012 and we’re growing from 14 to 25 sites by the end of the year, so I'm looking forward to it."

Spaghetti House had a 'weak' festive period in comparison with previous years

Spaghetti House

Luigi Lavarini, chief executive of the family-owned Spaghetti House restaurant chain, said: “We found it very patchy and actually very difficult. It’s always hard to make direct comparisons with previous years because of weather patterns and the way Christmas falls.

“But the residue of it all was that the overall numbers are weak in comparisons to previous years. The sites near the busy shopping areas, the Oxford Street areas and the main arteries along the West End, did a bit better. And the Westfield London site had a good period. But overall, there was a slight weakening.

“We had very few party bookings. The Christmas spirit was lacking a little bit this year. People and businesses are being burdened by costs and I think it’s taken a bit of the fun out of the Christmas period.

“We were hoping for better but we understand at the moment that the realities are that consumers are being bombarded with increasing costs everywhere.

“Restaurants do look for a strong Christmas performance to cheer up yearly results but we’re going to have to settle for a second-best situation at Spaghetti House. It’s not cataclysmic but it makes for difficult trading circumstances.”

The Camden Eye's new pizza offering helped the pub deliver a strong set of results

The Camden Eye

Mahdis Neghabian, the current BII Licencee of the Year and manager of London pub The Camden Eye, said: "Christmas was really good for us. Wev'e recently launched the pizza restaurant here and, although we didn’t do any Christmas food, we’ve actually sold more than ever, it’s been crazy.

"We took some bookings but had a lot of walk-ins. We just kept everything basic and focused on value-for-money. It’s still busy now as well. Yesterday and the day before have been mental - it’s well up on previous years.

"I think 2013 is going to be a great year. There are pubs closing but the public do still appreciate a god quality pub restaurant, so I’m looking forward to the 12 months ahead."

TCG pub group

Some of TCG's food-led venues achieved record sales for the Christmas period

TCC, which operates a diverse estate of managed pubs and bars nationwide, saw a number of its food-led venues achieve record sales, with the group recording a 2.5 per cent year-on-year sales increase in the four weeks to 1 January.

Nigel Wright, TCG’s chief operating officer, said: “With Christmas Day on the Tuesday, the overall trading period obviously moved back slightly compared to last year, which provided a superb week of double digit growth in the week up to Sunday 23 December.

“Pre-booked parties at our Henry’s Café Bars and other food-led sites delivered the big numbers in mid-December, while the real uplift in wet trade came closer to Christmas, with some bumper numbers on ‘mad Friday’. This last Friday before the long break was a huge day across the whole business and was 140% up on the same day last year, as groups of office workers and tradesmen spilled into their local pub or bar for a traditional festive drink.”

“Overall, we feel this was a very creditable festive performance and a testament to the hard work and pre-planning of the TCG pub and bar teams. It puts us in a good position at the start of 2013.”

Grand Union Bars

Trading for December proved to be 'extremely encouraging'  2012 for the London-based bar operator Grand Union Bars. Like-for-like sales were up 13 per cent for the month to £715k net, with an impressive 25 per cent increase in like for like food sales.

This was mainly driven by increased pre-orders of corporate groups in our Paddington & Farringdon sites which recorded 24 per cent and 21 per cent like-for-like growth respectively. New Year’s Eve proved to be equally popular as last year, with pre-booked ticket sales increasing by 12 per cent on 2011. There was, however, a reduced walk-in footfall due to the weather, but this did not dampen the festive spirit for the group.

How was your Christmas & New Year?

Did your restaurant or pub have a good festive period; or perhaps you found this year particularly tough? Leave a comment below, or get in contact with us via Facebook​or Twitter​to let us know how you got on.

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