Strong sales at RoadChef's Costa Coffee outlets couldn't offset an overall downturn in catering revenue during the third quarter of its 2006 financial year.
Although year-on-year sales at the Whitbread-owned café franchises rose by 23.1%, total catering sales for the third quarter across 16 of its 29 sites fell by 1.6% to £2.6m.
RoadChef produces financial data only for its 16 securitised sites, for the benefit of bondholders.
RoadChef, which receives 65 million visitors per year, blamed the dip on higher petrol prices, which left motorists with less cash to spend on food and drink.
But while strong Costa sales didn't produce quarterly growth, it was a different matter for the past year as a whole. Catering sales in the 52 weeks to 2 July were up 5.4% to £44.8m, which the company attributed to a 41.2% jump in Costa revenue.
A RoadChef spokesman said: "The strong performance of the brands in our operation shows how effective signage can increase footfall. It highlights the importance of the signage legislation as an issue for all motorway service area operators and is something RoadChef continues to lobby the Government on."
Meanwhile, a £1.95 increase in room rate at 11 Premier Travel Inn sites within RoadChef's estate helped counter a 3.7 percentage point fall in occupancy to 68.5%. Third-quarter turnover at the hotels was £1.59m, compared witho £1.6m last year.
Overall turnover for the quarter, including fuel and forecourt retail sales, was up from £81.2m to £81.7m. Higher operating expenses saw pre-tax profit drop from £6.6m to £5.9m.
By Tom Bill