Casual dining brands led the market in February with a 3.4% like-for-like sales increase - 4.6% for brands outside the M25 – according to the latest Coffer Peach Business Tracker.

The tracker – which analyses data from 30 UK pub and restaurant groups – saw like-for-like sales up 1.6% across the country with total sales for the month up 5.8%.

Peter Martin, vice president of CGA Peach, which produces the Tracker in partnership with Coffer Group, Baker Tilly and UBS, said: ““February marked the 23rd consecutive month of positive like-for-like sales for the sector. It is showing steady but consistent growth, which illustrates the underlying strength of the market and the public’s desire to continue to go out to eat and drink.”

He added: “Not only are groups opening new sites, but right across the market are now actively investing in refreshing their propositions and also being quicker to dispose of underperforming sites, so maintaining that positive sales momentum.”

London remained the key growth area for managed pubs, with drink-led pubs and bars in the capital enjoying a 2.7% like-for-like boost against the same period last year. Trading in pubs outside the M25 was essentially flat.

Trevor Watson, director at Davis Coffer Lyons, part of the Coffer Group, said: “As the Coffer Peach tracker matures, we get to see a clearer picture of how the sector is evolving over a longer time frame. Corporate pub and restaurant operators are growing their businesses faster outside the M25 with many more openings because site availability is better. However, as more and more companies announce ambitious expansion plans, we are seeing more intense competition for new sites throughout the country. Within the M25, trading conditions are marginally better than in outer parts of the country, although the rate of new openings is somewhat slower simply because of the lack of sites.”

Paul Newman, head of leisure and hospitality at Baker Tilly, added: “The eating and drinking out industry has continued its positive run well into the New Year. Impressively, total sales have uplifted significantly by 5.8% from last year, driven by new site openings and an improved demand environment. The sector’s capacity for job creation and tax generation singles it out as one of the shining lights that is driving the UK’s economic growth prospects.

Jarrod Castle, leisure analyst at UBS Investment Research, said: “Like-for-like growth for February at 1.6% was in line with January, but a deceleration compared to December’s 2.8% and November’s 3.4% rates. This leaves the 12-month moving average growth rate at 2.2%. The 12-month moving average inside the M25 is now 3.2%, while outside it is 1.9%.”