Evidence that the tables have turned with drink-led businesses in the ascendant and food-led ones finding the market particularly tough, is further demonstrated in the latest CGA Fourth Business Confidence Survey.

Ongoing political uncertainty and multiple business challenges continue to dog confidence among food-led pubs, bars and restaurant groups while wet-led enterprises are more upbeat, indicates the survey.

It also identifies that operators are more focused on optimising their existing assets rather than expansion with a third of leaders planning refurbishments across more sites this year than last.

The survey found that a minority (41%) of bosses are fairly or very optimistic about prospects for the eating and drinking out market over the next 12 months – up slightly from 39% in February, but down six percentage points on a year ago.

Optimism in their own business prospects continues to be higher than faith in the general market, the June poll of about 140 senior industry executives shows.

The gap, however, between confidence levels in their own businesses and in the market in general has narrowed slightly over the past three months.

Sixty-five per cent of leaders are fairly or very optimistic about their own firms in the next 12 months – down from 68% the previous quarter and from 75% in the same period last year.

Faith in consumers’ hunger to dine and drink out has languished. Only 9% predict they will do so more often. Forty-five per cent think consumers will eat and drink out less often in the next six months than they do currently.

The poll also reveals a stark contrast in optimism levels between business types: 61% per cent of leaders of drink-led businesses feel optimistic about the market as a whole over the next year – nearly twice the proportion of leaders of food-led businesses – 33%.

This echoes findings from the latest Coffer Peach Business Tracker that showed much stronger like-for-like sales growth for managed drink-led operators than for food-led ones over the past year.

More than a quarter (29%) of leaders reported their own business’s performance over the last six months had been below expectations – nine percentage points up on CGA’s last Confidence Survey.

CGA group chief executive Phil Tate said: “The patchy optimism among food-led business leaders confirms that 2019 has been a rough ride, with casual dining operators buffeted by ferocious headwinds and several high-profile brands struggling.”

Leaders of drink-led businesses, however, clearly felt they had much more to look forward to – a sign that after many years of pub closures and restaurant expansion, the tables had turned.

Ben Hood, Fourth chief executive, said: “The research graphically illustrates what we know from our many working partnerships with hospitality businesses: productivity and delivering efficiency gains is ‘mission critical’ for hospitality businesses in this market, and there is clear momentum in this area, with operators harnessing technology to drive efficiencies and defend profitability.”

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