Restaurants and pubs enjoyed a strong month in April, with like-for-like sales up 3.8% and total sales ahead 6.2%, according to the latest Coffer Peach Business Tracker.
But the headline figures hide a more complex picture of consumer spending. "While the school holidays had a positive effect, Easter 2011 wasn't as good as Easter 2010 and while the hot weather helped pubs in particular, it also brought out more home barbecues as a counter-attraction," said Peter Martin of Peach Factory, the market consultancy which produces the tracker in partnership with KPMG, UBS and the Coffer Group.
The tracker monitors sales performance across 21 major pub and restaurant groups including Mitchells & Butlers, Whitbread restaurants, Pizza Hut, Punch Pub Co, Gondola (owner of PizzaExpress), Tragus (Café Rouge and Bella Italia), Wagamama and TGI Fridays.
"The extra holiday for the Royal Wedding, Easter being later, how school holidays fell and the sunny weather all played a role, but not always as might have been expected," said Martin.
"The challenge for pubs and restaurants has been to convince people to go out rather than stay at home and watch the Royal Wedding on their own TV, for example, or enjoy the sun around their own or friends' barbecues. So to grow sales over the month is good news, with the run up to the Easter weekend particularly strong," he added.
"Hot weather, as we had this year, generally tends to favour pubs, especially those with outside areas, rather than restaurants. Last year, it rained over Easter and many people went shopping, especially to malls, and to inside entertainment like the cinema, benefiting restaurants in those locations. Good weather can be a double-edged sword."
Separate figures for the four days of Easter, from Good Friday to Easter Monday, actually showed sales down 6.5% on a like-for-like basis on the 2010 Easter weekend holiday, while total sales were down 3.7%.
"The Easter effect is interesting," added Martin. "Last year, the long weekend off was right at the start of the month and the weather was wet; this year it was at the end of April and it was hot. Last year, it was also in the middle of school holidays, this year some children had gone back to school before Easter."
However, he said, the school holidays probably had a bigger positive impact on sales than the bank holidays. "Our research across the year highlights the big positive effect that school holidays are having on trade, particularly with people staying in the UK."
The April results mark a continuation of steady, positive like-for-like growth across eating and drinking-out this year, with March ahead 0.9% and February up 3.1% on the comparable months in 2010.
Month on month April was down 11.2% on March, because March was a five-week, rather than a four-week, month.
Trevor Watson, of Davis Coffer Lyons, part of the Coffer Group, said: "The Royal Wedding has been the best advert for London in 30 years, and will have a long-term beneficial effect for years to come. With the Olympics around the corner, London is experiencing a boom as a result of this global publicity. Nonetheless, while we expect strong London trade to be largely sustained in 2011, consumer behaviour continues to vary across regions."
By Neil Gerrard
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