Customers driving sales growth among UK restaurants, pubs, bars and clubs could be suffering from "austerity fatigue".
That's the conclusion of new research by advisory firm Zolfo Cooper, whose biannual Leisure Wallet survey of 3,000 UK consumers showed that 48% had seen a fall in their disposable income in the last six months, while just 6% reported an increase. Over the last year the national average household income across a sample of 3,000 consumers fell by £640 to £30,584.
Despite that, Zolfo Cooper said consumers may have concluded that they can go out just as often provided they do not spend as much. Its survey showed the first increase in visits in the three main areas of leisure spending examined by the Leisure Wallet since launching in summer 2010.
But the survey has found that spending per visit has continued to decline, down 9.5% in pubs, 8% in restaurants and 12.4% in clubs.
It also revealed a huge regional difference, with Londoners spending £889 a year in restaurants on average - £200 more than any other region - while people in the East Midlands spend just £332 over a year. In Scotland the figure is £499.
But drinkers in the North West spend £999 a year compared with£490 in the East Midlands. The national average is £819 per year and Scotland's figure is £964.
Paul Hemming, Partner at Zolfo Cooper, said: "Consumers are increasingly aware that the economy is experiencing a prolonged trough, not a dip, and that wages and growth will not be rising dramatically any time soon.
"The data in the Leisure Wallet shows that people are now starting to adjust to these changed circumstances. After at least two years of virtuous belt-tightening, they are fed up of being stuck indoors by an austerity curfew and are now beginning to venture out more often. Even though consumers continue to keep close watch on their spending, this is good news for operators with strong propositions because ultimately no leisure business can survive without customers coming through the door."
• Pubs and bars: Visits up year-on-year by 2.2% to 4.6 per month. Average spend-per-visit down by £1.55 (9.5%) to £14.69. Biggest spenders by region are North West at £999 over a year, compared to East Midlands at £490.
• Restaurants: Visits up year-on-year by 4% to 2.6 per month. Average spend-per-visit down by £1.38 (8%) to £15.90. Londoners are highest spending region at £889 over a year, lowest are East Midlands at £332.
• Late night: Visits up year-on-year by 10.5% to 2.1 per month. Average spend-per-visit falls by 12.4% to £24.04.
Hemming added: "It may seem strange to be talking about positives when spending continues to decline but the fact that visits are up across the board suggests consumers have now recognised that they can still afford to go out regularly and enjoy themselves provided they spend a bit less on each night out. For operators, this more budgeted approach to leisure still presents opportunities to cross-sell and up-sell, and more people coming through the doors shows that operators' sales initiatives and marketing plans are starting to work."
By Neil Gerrard
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