Pub and restaurant groups saw like-for-like sales remain flat in February compared with the same period last year, according to the latest Coffer Peach Business Tracker.
Total sales, which include the impact of new openings, were up 3.2% on 2015 for the 31 companies studied including Mitchells & Butlers, Pizza Hut, Whitbread, Pizza Express, Spirit Group and Young's.
The capital saw the best trading for February, with like-for-like up 0.9%, against a 0.3% decline for the rest of the country.
Peter Martin, vice president of CGA Peach, which produces the Tracker, in partnership with Coffer Group, RSM and UBS, said: "The numbers will be a disappointment for the sector, coming on the back of a bright start to the year, with January like-for-likes up 1.9%, but they reflect a growing sense in the market that 2016 will be a tougher year than last."
He said this year will also see restaurant openings slow as the market "becomes a little more cautious".
Casual dining chains collectively did better than the wider pub and bar market, with like-for-likes up 1.6% on February 2015 against a 0.8% fall for managed pubs.
The underlying trend shows year-on-year sales, for the 12 months to the end of February, up 1.7% on last year, with out of London just marginally ahead of the capital.
Trevor Watson, executive director, valuations, at Davis Coffer Lyons, said: "The market continues to show ‘steady as she goes' progress in terms of overall sales, with like-for-like figures being pegged back by the rate of new openings."
He added: "Although consumer confidence is steady, we expect to see some business investment decisions held back until after the referendum which could lead to increased corporate activity in Q3 and Q4 of 2016."
Paul Newman, head of leisure and hospitality at RSM, said: "Although disappointing, it comes as no real surprise that the surge in supply and convergence across eating and drinking-out formats is now starting to slow growth and put downward pressure on like-for-like sales. Competition among operators is set to intensify and the winners will be those who can best balance site expansion with innovative menu development and competitive pricing."
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