Britain's big pub and restaurant groups had a strong Christmas and New Year, with like-for-like sales up 9.9% on the same period in a snow-hit 2010-11.
Total sales, including the effect of new openings, were ahead 13.7% on December 2010.
The figures come from the Coffer Peach Business Tracker, which collects monthly performance data from 23 major pub and restaurant operators.
"Much of the increase can go down to the fact that there was no snow this December, which disrupted trade last year. However, the underlying trend is still encouragingly positive," said Peter Martin of Peach Factory, the business intelligence specialist that produces the sector tracker, in partnership with KPMG, UBS and the Coffer Group.
"Last December, like-for-like sales were down 4.2% on 2009, with total sales falling 3.4%, as snow badly disrupted business in the run-up to Christmas. Nevertheless, even allowing for that, December 2011 like-for-like figures are still a healthy 5.3% up on two years ago," Martin added.
December was the sixth month running that the eating- and drinking-out-of-home market has seen positive trading. Like-for-likes increased 2.1% in November, 0.9% in October, 2.8% in September, 0.6% in August and 1.0% in July. The almost 10% jump in pub and restaurant group numbers last month was in contrast to the retail sector, which saw only a 2.2% increase in like-for-like sales in December, according to the British Retail Consortium/KPMG Retail Sales Monitor.
Trevor Watson, director at Davis Coffer Lyons, said: "Against a background of fragile consumer confidence, consumers are still choosing to spend their leisure time and money eating away from the home. This is because operators are continuing to offer improvements in service and value. Brands with representation in regional shopping centres, leisure parks and airports in particular are experiencing relatively strong trading conditions, while traditional-high street locations are generally finding trading more challenging."
Richard Hathaway, KPMG's head of travel, leisure and tourism, added: "The major pub and restaurant operators saw a significant rebound in sales last month. This comes as a welcome relief for the sector after three very difficult festive periods in a row. December also saw total sales growth again outstrip like-for-like sales growth by almost 4%, reflecting the impact of continued investment in new openings by the UK's major operators in 2011. This demonstrates the confidence shown in what remains a relatively robust sector, despite the weak economic and consumer environment."
Jonathan Leinster, head of UBS European leisure research, added: "Today's numbers suggest that pub spending around the holiday period was far more buoyant than results from high-street retailers might imply, although we don't expect this to mark a new trend."
By Neil Gerrard
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