It is significant that restaurant chains, rather than pub groups, have been the ones quick to boast of their Christmas trading successes this year. City Centre Restaurants saw like-for-like sales in the Christmas and New year fortnight up 7% on 2002, while Ask, the rival it hopes to merge with, also reported a successful December with positive like-for-like growth. Even the more upmarket Chez Gerard was able to announce a 5.7% improvement in like-for-likes for the festive six weeks. It was not just that people are eating out, Domino’s Pizza, the king of the home delivery, happily revealed like-for-like sales ahead 4.7% for the five weeks to 28 December to record levels. The contrast with drink-led pubs and bars was again highlighted by the results from the Yates Group. The food-led Ha! Ha! bar and canteen concept once again left the rest of Yates Group behind at Christmas, with a cheery 6.7% rise in like-for-likes, while the core Yates bar brand actually saw a 0.8% fall in like for likes, with even the heavily invested new-format "21st Century Yates" bars seeing only a 2.3% uplift. As this column has been saying for some time, food is the growth market. Drink at best is flat. Eating out is now part of the British way of life, and the trend cuts right across the age and social divides. Twenty-and-thirty-somethings are increasingly choosing an evening out enjoying themselves at Zizzis as going down the pub. La Tasca, the tapas chain, is already eating into the “girls-night-out” market. As much as 70% of its customers are female. As the nation has learned to love restaurants, convenience, service and value-for-money have been the keys to ensuring success for the best high street operators. And as Domino’s and the runaway success that Marks & Spencer Simply Food stores have proved it is also that day-to-day cooking at home is now just a chore. The Simply Food run by Compass at Waterloo Station in London is now said to be taking £10m a year. The news this week that Pret has opened the first of its new Pret Cafes, latching on to the new “fast casual” eating out trend, should demonstrate this is no passing fad. The lessons for pub and bar chains are there, but it is more than just boosting the bar snack menu. Success in eating out is also about culture, service and quality. The most successful eating out brands are about providing value for the quality of offering they provide, but they are not about being cut-price. Many of those unwanted high street bar sites, could yet see a return to profit in a new guise as a restaurant or café, although bar operators may need to leave it to others to do it – or at least bring in those that know how to do it, if they can stomach it.