Marston’s has seen total food and drink sales at 92% of 2019 levels in the period from 17 May to 24 July 2021, with sales up 88% since 12 April, beating its expectations.

In a trading update for the 42 weeks to 24 July 2021, the pub operator and brewer said that since the May reopening “overall sales have been encouraging, and better than our expectations”, with its stronger performance drive by a combination of additional food covers, outdoor investment, warmer weather and the benefit of the delayed Euro 2020 tournament.

Like-for-like sales within its Carvery business fared less well – at 73% of their 2019 since 12 April – as the restrictions posed operational challenges, namely the inability to offer self-service.

It said the Brains estate, acquired in February 2021, had performed well since reopening with trading levels mirroring those of Marston’s core estate. While its accommodation arm has benefitted from the growth in Brits holidaying within the UK.

The business said it had seen “a modest uplift” in sales since all trading restrictions were lifted on 19 July but that it was too soon to draw any meaningful conclusions from the data.

Ralph Findlay, chief executive officer, said there were challenges ahead as the sector starts out on the road to recovery, “with the immediate short term continuing to be uncertain and operationally disrupted”. “The tone of government messaging will be an important influence on consumer confidence. At present, the message is one of caution.

“We believe that a government review of the business rates system is long overdue and that VAT reduction should be permanent since the hospitality industry remains one of the most heavily taxed sectors. This would assist an industry that has been hit hard and aid hospitality’s employment and development of young workers which will be a key part of the UK’s economic recovery.

Marston’s said the investment made in its outdoor areas – which it has in around 90% of its pubs – have positively impacted trading since April and it is expected they will bring further benefit in early Spring and late Autumn in the future.

The group opened around 70% of its pubs for outdoor trading before the whole estate of around 1,500 sites has been open since 17 May.