Strong Christmas trading for Spirit and Wetherspoon as pubs outperform restaurants over festive period

By Luke Nicholls

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Spirit pub company, Christmas, New year's day, Christmas tree

Spirit Pub Company, JD Wetherspoon and Greene King have this week reported a boost in like-for-like sales over the Christmas period
Spirit Pub Company, JD Wetherspoon and Greene King have this week reported a boost in like-for-like sales over the Christmas period
Spirit Pub Company and JD Wetherspoon are the latest pub groups to report a very profitable Christmas and New Year as the latest industry sales barometer reveals that pubs outperformed restaurants over the festive period.

Earlier this week BigHospitality reported that fellow pub operator Greene King posted a record set of results​over the Christmas period, and a number of other pub and bar groups including TGC and Grand Union told us of their similar good fortunes.

And, despite battling 'the prefect storm' of continuing taxation, punitive regulation and on-going pressure on consumers' disposable incomes, Spirit Pub Company and JD Wetherspoon have both followed suit, reporting above-average increases in like-for-like sales. 

Spirit Pub Company

Food sales led the growth in Spirit Pub Company’s managed estate

While admitting that ‘trading conditions from October through to mid-December were very challenging due to the on-going wet weather’, Burton-based Spirit Pub Company has hailed what it calls a ‘strong Christmas trading period’.

Like-for-like sales for the 20 weeks to 5 January 2013 were up five per cent, contributing to a 2.3 per cent growth across the group’s managed division.

Food sales led the growth in Spirit’s managed estate for the 20-week period, with like-for-likes up 2.3 per cent against drinks at 0.2 per cent. The group did, however, report a 2.1 per cent decline in like-for-like net turnover and a 2.9 per cent drop in like-for-like net income for its leased pubs.

JD Wetherspoon

JD Wetherspoon intends to open approximately 25 pubs in the current financial year

Meanwhile, managed pub operator JD Wetherspoon saw like-for-likes increase by 8 per cent for the first eleven weeks of the second quarter (to 13 January 2013), with total sales up by 11.3 per cent.

The group expects the operating margin for the half-year ending 27 January 2013 to be around 8.2 per cent, approximately 1.1 per cent lower than the last financial year, due to higher-than-expected increases in costs in areas such as tax, utilities, labour and bar and food supplies, combined with increased marketing costs.

Coffer Peach Business Tracker

Looking at the pub and restaurant sectors as a whole, the Coffer Peach Business Tracker has revealed that the UK’s larger groups have reported better Christmas and New Year trading than a year ago – though not by much.

Collective like-for-like sales for the six weeks up to January 6 were up 2.1 per cent on the same period 12 months ago and total sales were ahead 4.7 per cent.

Peter Martin of Peach Factory, which produces the sector Tracker, agrees that pubs performed better than restaurants over the Christmas period, claiming: “Although drink-led pubs generally edged pub restaurants in terms of Christmas sales performance, it was still the food element of their businesses that drove the uplift.”

Slow start

Looking at week-by-week trading, the Tracker data collected from 24 operating groups shows a slow start to the festive celebrations with the last week of November and the first two weeks of December all down on 2011 in terms of like-for-like sales.

Sales then picked up strongly in the week that ended on the weekend before Christmas, with restaurants in particular doing well. The week containing the New Year holiday also performed well, especially for pubs.

“Operators will be pleased to be up on last year, but with both Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve falling mid-week, and so not affecting normal weekend trading, they would have been expecting a slightly better sales performance than last year,” added Martin.

Flat marketplace

“The figures reflect the essentially flat marketplace we have experienced for the past year or so, where any sales growth for the leading groups has come from new openings, which in turn has helped them increase market-share at the expense of independents.

“While there has been no big festive boost for eating and drinking out overall, neither has there been the decline some sections of the retail market have seen.”

Mark Sheehan, managing director of Coffer Corporate Leisure, echoes the view that there was somewhat of a ‘restrained festive cheer’ for pub and restaurant groups. He added: “Operators were generally expecting two full weeks trading pre-Christmas last year and thus good like for likes were anticipated.

“These numbers are a little disappointing overall and to an extent reflect the very strong competition from independent and emerging brands especially in London. The bigger operators are not having it all their own way and innovative new operators are undoubtedly taking market share in the capital.”

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