Results from the 30 companies involved in the tracker show that sales fell 0.3 per cent in March, ending 23 months of positive growth for the sector.
“The particularly strong Easter showing right at the start of April will have helped overcome any disappointment among operators with the essentially flat performance in March – with restaurant chains having the most to feel happy about,” said Peter Martin, vice president of CGA Peach, which produces the report in partnership with Coffer Group, Baker Tilly and UBS.
Paul Newman, head of leisure and hospitality at Baker Tilly, added: “For a holiday period traditionally associated with eating and drinking at home with family, Easter is now close to joining Christmas as a benchmark period in operators’ diaries. Its growing importance is indicative of a sector where investment in entrepreneurship has generated inspirational brands and changed not only the face of the UK high street, but also with it the UK consumers’ leisure habits.”
Casual dining vs pubs
Comparing trading over the four-days of April 3 to 6 this year with the 2014 holiday weekend of April 18 to 21, casual dining brands, such as Pizza Express and Wagamama, collectively saw a 7.6 per cent like-for-like sales increase against Easter last year, with managed pub groups ahead 4 per cent.
“So far this year, restaurant groups have in general been out-performing pubs. In March they still saw like-for-likes edge up 0.7 per cent, while pubs were down 0.7 per cent, with pub restaurants particularly having a tougher time," said Martin.
“This may in part be down to the investment cycle with the effect of much of the spending on pub revamps in recent years now beginning to wear off, while casual dining chains are now more active in rolling-out and reinvigorating their brands."