Confidence continues to improve in the UK foodservice market, as more than two thirds of operators reported an increase in food sales year-on-year.
That's according to the latest figures from foodservice analyst Horizons' Eating Out-Look with JRA.
The survey of 300 operators also found that 26% of operators reported a large increase in food sales, with around half saying they were serving more meals at the weekend than they did this time last year.
Meanwhile, fewer operators are taking cost cutting actions in 2014 compared with 2013, and a significant proportion of businesses have increased staff numbers (28%), with fewer having to cut staff hours or freeze wages.
"This is a really encouraging result and one that reassures us that recovery in the hospitality sector is well under way," said Emma Read, Horizons' director of marketing & business development.
"Our last operator survey [May 2014] showed that businesses were much more optimistic about future trading, with a third expecting increases in food sales. Six months on their optimism has been proved correct, with the majority of respondents reporting an actual rise in food and drink sales and confidence in the sector even higher."
The report, which surveys hotel, restaurant, pub and quick service operators, also found that fewer customers were trading down to lower priced meals, with 22% doing so this autumn compared with 33% last year. Meal deals and vouchers have also dropped in popularity, with the proportion of customers purchasing meals using meal deals or promotions dropping to 34%, compared with 41% a year ago.
Operators' perception of average spend per head has also increased significantly in 2014 with the number of consumers spending £12-16 rising from 12% [Autumn 2013] to 18% [Autumn 2014] and the proportion of customers spending an average of £6-12 dropping from 24% to 21%. Those perceived by operators to spend over £25 has risen three percentage points, from 10% to 13% in the same period.
"A decline in mentions of cost reducing actions illustrates operators' new-found confidence, as previous surveys have revealed that menu changes and re-negotiation of supplier contracts have been key ways for operators to keep their costs down."
Of the operators that took part in the survey, nearly 90% expect food sales to increase further over the next 12 months, with a quarter of those expecting large increases, significantly higher than in 2013.