Like-for-like sales at Britain's leading managed restaurant, pub and bar groups in March were 1.4% ahead of last year's levels, the new Coffer CGA Business Tracker shows.
The tracker, which is produced by CGA by NIQ in partnership with the Coffer Group and RSM UK, has been in year-on-year growth for six successive months. However, March's rate was the slowest of the first three months of 2023 and substantially below the rate of inflation. Pressure on consumer spending, mixed weather and rail strikes all contributed to the challenges facing operators over the month.
Pubs achieved like-for-like sales growth of 2.4% in March, while restaurants were 2.5% ahead of March 2022. The bars segment had a third consecutive month of negative figures, with sales down 13.2%.
The tracker highlighted an ongoing revival in London since the end of Covid-19 restrictions, with trading outpacing the rest of the country. Sales within the M25 were 3.1% ahead year-on-year, compared to 1.2% outside the M25.
Karl Chessell, director – hospitality operators and food, EMEA at CGA by NIQ, said: "These figures emphasise that trading conditions in hospitality remain challenging and operators have to work hard to grab their share of sales. Consumers' interest in eating and drinking out remains strong, but after adjustments for inflation it's clear that in real terms, it is tougher for operators this year than last year.
"May's three bank holidays will bring opportunities for strong trading, and there is cautious optimism that pressure on spending may ease as the year goes on. But the government's reduction of support on energy bills from April, and increases in minimum wage levels, will add to the squeeze on operators, and real-terms growth will be difficult for some time to come."
Mark Sheehan, managing director at Coffer Corporate Leisure, said: "The market remains challenging but there is some optimism among traders. While top line growth lags inflation across the board many operators are looking to take advantage of better availability of property to build a selective pipeline of new sites. Much growth in sales is being derived from price increases rather than volume."
Paul Newman, head of leisure and hospitality at RSM UK, said: "The hospitality industry is not immune to the ‘slowcession' gripping the nation and these results reflect an industry that is stuck in a rut of modest like-for-like growth, but way below inflation. Operators will continue to feel the pinch until persistently high food price inflation begins to retreat but will be hopeful of an uplift in trade in mega-May to reverse this holding pattern of margin erosion."