Britain's leading pub and restaurant groups enjoyed an extra merry Christmas with collective like-for-like sale up 2.8% on 2013.
The party season was in even fuller flow in the capital, with London operators reporting an increase of 4.4%, compared to 2.3% for those outside the M25.
"With supermarkets and specialist off-licences like Majestic Wine seeing seasonal sales suffer, it seems the British public decided to go out and have fun rather than just stay at home," said Peter Martin, vice-president of CGA Peach, the business insight consultancy that produces the Tracker, in partnership with Coffer Group, Baker Tilly and UBS.
Generally, restaurant chains also had a better Christmas season than pubs, with collective like-for-likes 4.7% ahead of last year, compared to a 2% collective increase for managed pub and bar groups.
Martin added: "The success of casual dining groups, especially outside of London, suggests that Christmas time is not just about people going out to find a traditional Christmas dinner, but also about general family and friends time."
Drinks-led operators in the pub and bar sector fared the best, particularly within the M25, which enjoyed a 5.6% increase in like-for-like sale against a national average of 3%. "Although drink sales were up 2%, food was the biggest driver of growth, even within these predominantly drink-led environments, with sales up 6.8% over the period," added Martin.
"It is interesting that while pubs in general seem to be flourishing inside the M25 and still finding it tougher away from London, casual dining brands are having a better time of it away from the capital," observed Martin. Like-for-like growth for casual dining brands outside of London was 5.4% over Christmas, compared to 3.6% inside the capital.
"What's clear is that the eating and drinking out market is performing more strongly than retail, with latest British Retail Consortium figures showing a 0.4% like-for-like decline in December for the retail sector against 2013. For the British public it is not just about acquiring things any more it's about buying experience - and perhaps this sector rather than retail should be the accepted measure of economic health."
"The increase in eating and drinking out spend across all sectors, restaurants, bars and pubs, suggests people are perhaps not as depressed by the pressure of austerity as politicians would have us believe, and if David Cameron ever wants to resurrect his 'happiness barometer', perhaps this is it."