Like-for-like restaurant and pub sales dropped by 0.5% in March, with the late Easter holiday break to blame.
That's according to the latest Coffer Peach Business Tracker, which collects sales figures from 34 pub and casual dining restaurant companies across the country, including Mitchells & Butlers, PizzaExpress and TGI Friday's.
Restaurant chains recorded collective like-for-like sales down 1.4% in March, with trading in managed pubs flat compared with the same month a year before.
Meanwhile, London saw strong trading during the month, with a 2.9% like-for-like increase across the market.
The March numbers follow a nationwide 1.7% like-for-like market increase in February, a 1.9% rise in January, and a 2.2% increase over Christmas and the New Year.
However, the underlying annual sales trends shows sector like-for-likes running at just 0.8% ahead for the 12 months to the end of March.
"Easter can usually be relied on to provide a significant boost to the eating and drinking out market, but with it falling in April this year, a month later than last time, it has skewed March trading figures. But with only a 0.5% decrease overall, operators will be hoping for an extra uplift when April numbers appear," said Peter Martin, vice-president of CGA Peach, the business insight consultancy that produces the Tracker, in partnership with Coffer Group and RSM.
"With or without Easter, London saw strong trading during the month, with a 2.9% like-for-like increase across the market, driven in particular by robust sales in pubs and bars. The capital showed no immediate or obvious reaction to the Westminster terror attack either. However, outside the M25 like-for-likes dropped 1.7% in March."
"With growing cost pressures on the sector from business rates, food price inflation and wage increases, the fact that consumer spending on out-of-home food and drink appears at least to be holding up will be some relief for operators," Martin added.
Trevor Watson, executive director at Davis Coffer Lyons, said: "The strength of the London market shows that the capital is much more resistant to terror attacks, in commercial terms, than in previous years. Consumer spending in the UK remains firm, with London benefitting most from the weaker exchange rate which is under-pinning overseas visitor and staycation spending. The slight dip in sales at the national level should be recovered in April with the benefit of the late Easter."
"For operators, Easter is now a close second to Christmas as a benchmark period," said Paul Newman, head of leisure and hospitality at RSM. "An early Easter last year makes these figures tricky to assess although a 0.5% like-for-like decrease will be seen positively by many. This is especially good news when compared to the larger fall in overall retail sales for the same period. The trend towards experiences continues, with consumers increasing spend on eating and drinking-out over ownership of shop-bought products."
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