Consumers are spending more money eating out than in the retail sector, statistics from the Coffer Peach Business Tracker have shown.
Sales in pubs and restaurants rose by 0.9% in March, while total sales, including new site openings, were up 3.4% on March 2010.
Despite the fact that they were down on the 3.1% like-for-like increase seen in February, the March figures show that consumers are still prepared to go out for a meal and a drink, particularly with branded chains.
The figures are in contrast with the retail sector, where the British Retail Consortium reported March sales down 1.9% overall, and down 3.5% on a like-for-like basis.
Analysing the figures in the eating-out sector, Peach Factory director Peter Martin said: "The slowdown may have something to do with the corresponding weeks last year including the first part of the Easter break, so these results may be slightly better than they appear.
"However, trading is still tough and competition for the public's time and money is increasing. There is a fight for market share across eating-out, and those continuing to invest in improving their offer and adding sites are the ones winning out," he said.
Month on month, March sales were 22.3% ahead of February; however, March was a five-week month compared with four-week February.
Although trading remains tough, there is still a strong sense of optimism in the market, backed up by investors such as Duke Street Capital and Lyceum Capita, and their acquisitions of Wagamama and Eat respectively.
Recent tax changes may impact consumer spending in April, although with the number of bank holidays the outcome is uncertain.
Jonathan Leinster, head of European leisure and tobacco research at UBS Investment Bank, predicts there will still be growth during April. He explained: "We expect March trading for the listed pub companies to be stronger than the Coffer Peach Tracker result in March, and we are forecasting around 2% growth."
By Gemma Rowbotham
E-mail your comments to Caterer News here.
If you have something to say on this story or anything else join the debate at Table Talk - Caterer's new networking forum. Go to www.caterersearch.com/tabletalk
Looking for a new job? Find your next job here with Caterersearch.com jobs