Pub and restaurant groups saw a 1.2% uplift in like-for-like sales in May 2013, despite the month being colder and wetter than the same time last year.
That's the news from the latest Coffer Peach Business Tracker, which charts the progress of 27 major pub and restaurant firms, including Whitbread, Pizza Hut and Gondola (owner of the Pizza Express, Ask Italian and Byron brands).
The London market had the healthiest growth, with like-for-likes up 1.8%, and with managed pubs in the capital performing particularly strongly.
"After a poor, weather-affected start to the year, operators will be pleased to see some real growth in the market," said Peter Martin of Peach Factory, the business intelligence specialist that produces the Tracker, in partnership with Coffer Group, Baker Tilly and UBS.
"Despite May being colder and wetter than average, the public have shown they still have the appetite to go out to eat and drink," Martin added.
However, collective like-for-likes for those outside the M25 were essentially flat, with drink-led pubs seeing a like-for-like sales decline.
In contrast, mainstream restaurant chains saw a better performance away from London, both in terms of like-for-like and total sales growth. "Much of the market's new openings are coming from the branded casual dining sector outside of the M25," Martin said.
Underlying growth trends also improved last month. On a year-on-year basis, collective like-for-like sales for the 27 companies in the Tracker sample were ahead 1.0% for the 12 months up to the end of May against the previous 12 months. Total sales were running ahead 4.1% year-on-year.
Trevor Watson, director at Davis Coffer Lyons, said: "Although London performed strongly, the underlying trade across the country still looks fragile. The weather in May 2013 was below the long-term average, however, it was better than May 2012. Recovery in the housing market, particularly in the south east is giving rise to greater consumer confidence and I expect the statistics to improve over the summer months."
Paul Newman, co-head of leisure and hospitality at Baker Tilly said: "The UK consumer's ability to maintain eating and drinking out spend in a benign economic climate continues to be impressive. As such the UK is increasingly being targeted by international brands seeking to exploit strong positive headwinds. US burger chains Five Guys and Shake Shack are following the likes of Chipotle by testing their concepts in the London market and Jumeirah-owned brand Noodle House is also poised to hit the UK over the coming months. While great news for the consumer, these nimble and well-funded market entrants are likely to increase the pressures facing incumbent operators in an already highly competitive marketplace."
Jarrod Castle, leisure analyst at UBS European Leisure Research, added: "The bounce back continues as UK pubs and restaurants grew LFLs by 1.2% - a good return to growth following LFL figures of -3.0% in March and 0.1% in April. London continues to outpace the regions, but site expansion is slower. The performance gap between sites inside and outside the M25 has narrowed from last month, but is still significant with pubs and restaurants outside the capital seeing 0.8% LFL growth versus 2.0% for sites in London. Despite the weaker performance, the brands surveyed continue to accelerate their expansion outside the capital. We estimate site growth of 3.8% compared to 2.4% within the M25.
"Following months of poor weather impacting performance, May provided us with an opportunity to assess the health of the industry. Despite tough comps of 2.6% LFL growth in May 2012, the improving data signals that consumer appetite for eating and drinking out remains."