Managed restaurant, pub and bar groups in Britain achieved like-for-like (lfl) sales growth of +4% in March, but the effect of inflation was felt in the latest numbers from the Coffer CGA Business Tracker.

The 4% rise versus the same month in 2019 continued the gradual upturn in performance this year, following a 1% drop seen in January and 3% growth in February.

Bars achieved the strongest performance with lfl growth of 8%, while restaurants achieved +6% growth, with a lot of the latter’s growth driven by delivery. Pubs saw a smaller level of growth at +2%.

The geographic trends of previous Tracker data continued with sites in London showing flat lfls, while groups outside the M25 achieved 6% growth on average.

Karl Chessell, director - hospitality operators and food, EMEA at CGA, said: “Two years on from the start of the pandemic and unprecedented turmoil in hospitality, these figures show managed groups are building back steadily.

“It’s particularly pleasing to see bars performing so well, as people return to late-night visits. However, like-for-like figures are well below inflation, and with soaring costs in energy, food and other areas hurting both operators and consumers, real-terms growth will be extremely challenging for some time.”

Mark Sheehan, managing director at Coffer Corporate Leisure, said: “After a long challenging period for operators the recovery is slow and the challenges faced by the sector are wide. These numbers are improving though and returning workers and tourists in increasing numbers should help lift London over the coming months.”

Paul Newman, head of leisure and hospitality at RSM, added that the extent to which consumers can bear higher prices, in order to protect already slim profit margins, will be critical “as businesses navigate their way through what will be testing times over the next six to nine months”.