With January now in full swing, and many more operators having crunched the numbers, MCA takes another look at how the festive trading faired for the sector, with strong like-for-like growth reported by many. Featuring Brasserie Bar Co, Arc Inspirations, McMullen and Crussh.

Trading was strong across Brasserie Bar Co’s Brasserie Blanc and White Brasserie Pub Co brands over the Christmas period.

Richard Ferrier, chief commercial officer at Brasserie Bar Co, told MCA: “Like-for-like sales in the brasseries and pubs were up +5.8% during the period that includes Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve,” he said, adding that London had a particularly strong month with sales up 14% on a lfl basis.

“Of the 37 brasserie and pub sites, 17 enjoyed record sales weeks during December and the group as a whole averaged sales of more than £50k per site per week during the Christmas period,” added Ferrier.

Crussh reported positive December trading with like for likes up 8%, as workers sought to counterbalance festive drinks season with healthy hangover cures.

Chief executive Shane Kavanagh said: “Some of that positive trading is because we’re brilliant and have done loads of new stuff, and some of it is because of the bad weather we had last year. Restaurants tend to get a bump let in December, whereas we had strong day trade right up until last week, which was great.

“Christmas party season felt like it started a bit later. We do well in the morning when people are hungover, and come to us to sort themselves out. We didn’t do too much festive menu stuff this year, and focussed more on classic Crussh, and that seemed to work really well.”

On his positive forecast for 2019, he added: “From our perspective, we’re excited by what’s going on off the high street. Concessions, franchises - there’s a real opportunity there, and more people will find those when times are tough.”

Arc Inspirations saw like-for-like sales growth of +6.5% during December, with lfls up 14.9% in the final two weeks of the month. In addition the northern operator said that its three new bars in Manchester and Leeds (The Box, Leeds; Manahatta, Deansgate; and Banyan Bar & Kitchen, Spinningfields), have traded strongly since their autumn opening. Its standout performer was the new Manahatta bar, which achieved average sales of £110k per week over the festive period.

The business also saw pre-bookings reach 30% of sales across its main brands. CEO Martin Wolstencroft said: “The business experienced great trading across all sites, which is testament to our fantastic, committed, hard-working teams, and clearly demonstrates that the proposition of our core brands is attractive to customers. It also illustrates that the time spent honing our strategy of operating sites in clusters, with several venues located in close proximity and complementary to each other, is paying dividends.

“We’re excited for the year ahead and the prospect of bringing our brands to new locations and customers and expect 2019 to be another strong year for Arc Inspirations.”

M Restaurants’s CEO and founder Martin Williams told MCA the group had enjoyed “a fantastic Christmas”, with notable like-for-like sales and EBITDA growth. “M Victoria St was the star of the show in Q4 with 15% sales growth and 50% EBITDA growth,” he said. “As the area continues to develop and see the station finally reaching completion, we anticipate that this trend will continue.”

Bar operator Dirty Martini reported sales up by more than 30% year-on-year. The 11-strong leisure group reported its highest ever weekly trading, with sales in excess of £1m, contributing to a 32% increase for the month compared with last December; like-for-like sales were up by some 12.8% across all locations, with eight sites beating their previous sales records.

The group saw a near 20% increase in Pre-booked business, accounting for 64% of total sales.

Like-for-like sales for London rose by 8% during the period and regional sites were up by more than 20%.

Dirty Martini chief executive Scott Matthews said: “The outstanding performance of our group reinforces the exceptional offer we provide in terms of quality of experience. In the current climate more than ever, there is a flight to quality and we are experiencing stronger-than-ever demand for our product.”

Mark Robson, managing director of Red Mist Leisure, the 10-strong Surrey-based pub operator, said: “December trading was static, we were very marginally down on like-for-like sales on last year and up 3.5% on overall sales. Not brilliant but following the pattern of our year, pretty much flat on last year.

“Talking to other operators I don’t think this is too disastrous, everyone seems to think flat is the new up!”

While McMullen saw total sales increase by c10% in December, with food covers seeing a boost, he said. “Our un-invested estate (un-invested for a minimum of two years) grew by over 5% with strong growth in both drink and food sales,” said joint MD Heydon Mizon. “Our London sites continue to be buoyant delivering double-digit growth each year.” Like-for-like sales during December were up around 6%.

He said the pre-Christmas period saw the biggest sales improvement and it paid out a record sales bonus to its team, who set 30 new weekly sales records and two new company records during December. McMullen opened its latest site in December – The Kings Reach in Biggleswade, which took £50k per week in its opening month.