May was a tougher month for Britain's managed pub and restaurant operators, following a strong March and April, new figures have revealed.
The Coffer Peach Business Tracker found that collective like-for-like sales rose just 0.2% compared with the same month last year. It followed a 4.4% increase in April and a 4.6% advance in March.
Despite the relatively sluggish performance, May's figures mean that there have now been 14 consecutive months of like-for-like sales growth for the sector, while year-on-year same-store trading is still running at +2.9%.
Total sales for May, which include the impact of new openings, were ahead 2.5% on last year.
"The levelling off of growth will be a reminder that recovery is not guaranteed, although the underlying trend for the market remains strongly positive as the public continue to go out to eat and drink. But competition from smaller and newer operators and also other leisure attractions remains fierce," said Peter Martin of CGA Peach, the business insight consultancy that produces the Tracker, in partnership with Coffer Group, Baker Tilly and UBS.
"Overall, London performed slightly better than the rest of the country, with combined like-for-likes up 1.1%. But the capital still presented a mixed picture, with pub sales up 3% (4% for drink-led businesses), while casual dining chains saw LFL sales dip 1.3%," Martin added.
"Outside the M25, it was the other way around, with pubs suffering and restaurant groups seeing a 1.9% increase in like-for-likes. The big story outside London was that total sales for casual dining chains increased 9.1% on May last year, highlighting the continued roll-out of new branded sites away from London.
"Staying fresh and offering something new remains a big challenge for even the most experienced operator," Martin said.
There are 28 companies now contributing to the Tracker, including the likes of: Mitchells & Butlers, TGI Fridays, Wagamama, and Las Iguanas.
David Coffer, chairman of the Coffer Group, said: "This month's figures once again show that the leisure market remains robust. Although collective LfLs are only up slightly, they do follow two strong months of growth and it is understandable that the pace of growth will vary from month to month. The strength of the casual dining sector outside the M25 shows that the recovery, which is often considered to be London-centric, is now spreading to other parts of the country and, as we move into the summer, I imagine the regional pubs market will see a change in fortunes."