Like-for-like sales in pubs and casual-dining restaurants climbed for the fifth month in a row in October.
The latest Coffer Peach Business Tracker showed like-for-likes were up 2.2% in October compared with the same month a year previously. Meanwhile, total sales including openings were up 3.6%.
The Tracker monitors performance across 17 major pub and restaurant firms, including Mitchells & Butlers, Whitbread, Pizza Hut, Punch, Gondola and Tragus.
It shows that like-for-likes were ahead +1.0% in September, +1.5% in August, +1.9% in July and +1.4% in June, against the same months in 2009. Last year, October saw a +2.8% like-for-like increase on 2008 levels.
Month-on-month figures, however, show fluctuations, with October's sales being down -16.2% on September, which had in turn had been +15.1% up on August.
"These are nonetheless encouraging results, a consistently good showing by the bigger operators. It will help fuel optimism for the run-up to Christmas," said Peach Factory's Peter Martin. "The public is still going out and the bigger, often branded, chains are keeping their customers coming through the door."
Richard Hathaway, head of Travel, Leisure and Tourism at KPMG, commented: "With consistently good figures through the course of the summer, the market seems to be recovering well from the recession this year. The imminent Christmas season will further boost figures. Therefore, we expect this year to be an overall good year for larger operators. However, the next challenge will be the VAT increase in January, but a steady increase this year will help lift market confidence as we enter 2011."
David Coffer, chairman of the Coffer Group, said: "Although encouraging on a year-on-year basis generally, there is still fluctuation in the short-term in the market and the -16.2% change in October against the previous month is indicative of the fickleness of the UK food and beverage public. This ‘four steps forward, one back' mentality will, I believe, continue into 2011, making it difficult to predict future market trends and conditions."
Jonathan Leinster, head of European leisure and tobacco research, at UBS Investment Bank, observed: "The rate of like-for-like sales growth has been comfortably ahead of 2009 since the spring half-term break. As autumn menus were introduced in 2009, many operators increased prices ahead of the January 2010 VAT rise. A 2.2% like-for-like figure this year against +2.8% in October 2009 should be viewed as a very strong result. This bodes well for customer acceptance of higher menu prices again this autumn.
"The VAT rise in January 2010 represents a 2.1% price rise for consumers. Food and catering RPI has been rising since November 2009 and stood at +4.3% in September. In some respects, the managed sector needs good sales growth now to deal with the difficulty of another VAT rise and rising food inflation."
By Neil Gerrard
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