While it was a month many restaurant and pub groups will want to forget, it was the pub industry which was really left counting the cost of March's bad weather, according to the latest figures from the Coffer Peach Business Tracker.
“Pubs and pub restaurants generally had a worse time than high street restaurant brands, with a 3.4 per cent, compared to a 1.9 per cent, like-for-like sales fall," said Peter Martin of business intelligence firm Peach Factory.
According to the Met Office, last month was the joint second coldest March on record. Temperatures were more than 3°C lower than the long-term average - the mercury struggled to rise above the mean temperature of just 2.2°C.
Although the figures, which take into account data from 27 operating groups, show pubs and pub restaurants were hit hardest, eating and drinking-out spending was poor both inside and outside London when the weather was at its worst.
“The damage was really done in the two middle weeks of March, when like-for-likes across the groups in our sample were collectively down 4.8 per cent and 11 per cent - with some operators doing worse than that," Martin revealed.
Although they failed to reverse the monthly trend, strong sales over the Easter weekend were of some comfort to hospitality industry operators.
“The good news is that the four-day Easter holiday was significantly up on Easter last year, with like-for-likes ahead 7 per cent," Martin added. "The industry will hope that is a sign of latent public demand for going out and that warmer more settled weather will bring improved trading," he concluded.
The poor sales data for March arrived not long after the same business tracker reported more positive news. February's figures were up by 3.3 per cent.
Despite the poor statistics there are reasons for the industry to be positive. Like-for-likes for the 12 months to the end of March are just up (0.6 per cent) on the same period a year earlier.
A number of industry analysts continue to be upbeat about the year ahead, due in part to the continued mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity in the hospitality industry.
Trevor Watson, director at Davis Coffer Lyons, said: “The strong level of sales over the Easter weekend suggests that, when weather conditions allow, consumers are willing to spend on eating out.
"The overall numbers were predictably weak and we are now entering a period when like-for-like statistics will be affected by last year’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, which could result in some strong figures in London in particular.”
Paul Newman, co-head of leisure & hospitality at Baker Tilly, said: “This month’s data demonstrates continued resilience in the leisure and hospitality sector. This has encouraged further M&A activity with Little Chef and 3Sixty Restaurants reportedly joining the likes of Côte and Byron in considering transactions over the coming months.
"Advisors and shareholders alike will be hoping for a prolonged period of better weather to help heat up these processes.”