Managed pub and bar companies are now opening new sites at a faster rate than casual dining groups, the latest figures have shown.
The latest Coffer Peach Business Tracker showed restaurant groups returning to like-for-like sales growth in November – up 1.2% but were again outperformed by pub and bar groups, which grew collective like-for-like sales by 2.8%.
Martin told MCA that growth was being driven by fledgling brands and groups and proved that “you can never write off the pub, because it can always re-invent itself for a new generation”. He said that drink sales had become a major driver of sales growth again, and that this was true across both pubs and casual dining. He stressed that these trends were cyclical and that casual dining would re-assert itself after re-calibrating growth aspirations but said future evolution of the industry would also be driven by hybrid concepts and a focus on experience.
The latest Tracker showed like-for-like sales across the 38-strong cohort of companies up 2.2% on the same month last year. Trading away from London continued to be stronger than in the capital, with like-for-like sales outside the M25 up 2.7% for the month, compared to 0.9% inside the M25. Total sales growth in November was 5.9%, while underlying like-for-like growth for the 12 months to the end of November remains unchanged at 1.2%, with total sales growth over the 12 months steady at 4.1%.
Martin told MCA: “Consumers are still going out but they are seeking something different and they are often finding that with emerging brands. We are seeing that in London and in other cities around the UK.
“While the new wave might be small individually, collectively they are now a significant part of the market, and there are one or two that could break through to become serious national players, even in the current climate. We’re in a period of slowdown but brands still break through. Wetherspoon’s defied the gloom around the pub trade at one time and more recently Loungers has broken through the 100 mark. Does New World Trading Company do the same?
“The slowing down we’re seeing in the casual dining sector is similar to what happened with the pub chains in the past. Brands get to a certain point and it’s difficult to keep the momentum going. There is a question for everyone about how big a brand can get. But these things are cyclical.
“Drink is becoming more of a part of the mix, not just in pubs but in restaurants too. It’s where a lot of the innovation is happening now, be that craft beer, spirits or soft drinks.”
Trevor Watson, executive director, valuations, at Davis Coffer Lyons, said: ”It seems the reduced rate of new restaurant openings is helping to sustain like-for-like comparisons. The figures are somewhat stronger than some commentators were fearing, which will hopefully translate to some pleasing results over the festive period and that there will be some reasons to be cheerful as we enter the busiest trading season.
“The figures are a particular relief for restaurant operators, who over the last two years have seen their underlying like-for-like growth rate cut by more than half due to competition from start-ups concepts and new brands who have increased choice for consumers in UK market towns and major cities.”
Paul Newman, head of leisure and hospitality at RSM, added: “The upbeat November results will have provided some respite for hard-pressed operators in the run up to Christmas. As the economic squeeze on living costs sees the emergence of a more cost-conscious consumer, it will be interesting to see which operators break rank to hike menu prices. With the all-important festive trading season in full swing, the sector will be looking to claw back lost margin to shore up finances ahead of the tougher first quarter of the New Year.”