Pub operators have reported the poor weather badly affected the run-up to Christmas although the week between Christmas and New Year saw strong trading. Food-led destination pubs were particularly badly hit by the two or three weeks of cold weather with one leading operator down 25% year-on-year. Operators report strong regional variations with those in areas of the country not too badly affected by inclement weather doing best. Several London operators have reported strong trading in December, which would have been even better but for major snow events. Brian Keeley-Whiting, of six-strong fod-led Whiting & Hammond, said the company, with its south-east estate, had seen sales down 25% on the year before. He said: “It was all weather-related — there wasn’t a single week that wasn’t affected. Quite a few people have re-booked for January and we have high expectations for this month. "Unfortunately in December each week had its own little weather thing and each week was equally affected. "New Year’s Eve saw fewer people but good spend-per-head.” Ian Fozard, managing director of 14-strong Market Town Taverns, said that the company was slightly ahead of December 2009 despite a “pretty horrible” start to the month. “The month got better — the first week was pretty horrible with major snow and the last week — it’s a five-week month — was the best of all. "We were slightly ahead of December 2009 — although we’re used to being very significantly ahead in like-for-like terms. "Our first week was quite well down, the second week was level, third week was slightly down, fourth week was slightly up and the fifth week well up.” Overall, drink sales were 4% up and food sales were down 6-7%. Peach Pub Company co-founder Lee Cash said the company got "hammered" on the Saturday before Christmas (18 December) with all of its party bookings being cancelled. "It was tragic," he said. "The phones were ringing off the hook with cancellations." However, Cash is hopeful most will re-book for January and was happy with the overall performance with a strong Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. "If the snow hadn't hit us then we would have been about 2% down on last year," he said. Peach has decided to absorb the VAT increase. William Lees-Jones, managing director of Manchester brewer and pub operator JW Lees, described festive trading as a “rollercoaster”, with “poor” weeks in the first and fourth week of December. “The week of New Year was at least a positive week, but on a like-for-like basis we are down against our budget. “We’ve had a lot of cancelled booking because of the snow, particularly in rural areas,” he added. “Christmas on a Saturday is always bad news; we want a mid-week Christmas.” Colin Wilde, commercial director of 21-strong East Midlands-based Castle Rock Brewery, said December trading was “generally quite bright” and estimated a 5% year-on-year increase. “It was better than expected,” he continued. “Particularly at pubs in areas with a high residential base. There was a slide off in work-based areas. We had worried about losing trade with the way Christmas fell on the Friday and Saturday, but we held up well. We hope to maintain it into the new year.” Wilde said that there has been a “slide” in bookings over the last five years and that factors including the poor weather and cancelled football matches all had a knock on effect. Steve Haslam, managing director of four-strong TLC Inns, said trading in December was very site specific with his venue in Essex particularly badly hit by snow that stuck around for a fortnight. “The Henny Sawn near Sudbury, Suffolk and the White Horse at Ramsden Heath, Essex fought back to post pretty good numbers,” he said. The company’s Cutter in Ely, Cambridgeshire and Windmill in Peterborough were between 7 and 8% off budget. “Peterborough got virtually nothing in the way of snow. I think the economy played a part though — sites lost out on the corporate pound. I think a little of the corporate pound went missing at our more destination sites. "All deposits paid on cancelled bookings are redeemable in January and February — so we’re hoping that January beats budget.” Ian Payne, chairman of Stonegate Pub Company, which acquired 333 wet-led pubs from Mitchells & Butlers last year, said the week between Christmas and New Year had been particularly strong. But the snow in the run-up to Christmas had led to a “disappointing” performance. “It is not like you ever get that back,” he said. “It is not like shopping where if you can’t go one day, you go the next. If you don’t go out to the pub, you don’t go.” Payne said the two bank holidays (27 December and 3 January) had been the best days with other days boosted by the screening of Premier League football matches including Chelsea v Aston Villa on 2 January. He said New Year’s Eve had been “pretty good” but the industry had yet to recover from “screwing things up in 1999” by charging for entry. “Overall, I’m quite happy,” he said. Payne said prices had been adjusted at the start of December to take into account the VAT rise and he expected competition to not be as strong in January as previous years with Wetherspoon ditching its 99p pint sale. Alex Reilly, managing director of Loungers, said the group had posted its best ever results for the week “by a country mile” between Christmas and New Year with like-for-likes up 9.5% and an extra £50,000 banked. Like-for-likes for December as a whole were up 4.35% on strong comparables last year (up 10.4%). He said the calendar had created a “perfect storm”, in a good fashion, with many people off work for up to ten days or so. Loungers saw an increase in wet sales while breakfast sales soared as venues opened on New Year’s Day for the first time — with some sites serving up to 100 breakfasts before midday. The snow had a relatively neutral effect on the group with the West Country largely unaffected by snow until the week before Christmas. When it did come, its mainly suburban high street locations meant it was well placed to capitalise on extra trade generated by more people being off work and school. London-based Realpubs, with 14 sites in the capital, reported double digit sales growth compared to the year before. Co-founder Nick Pring believes the company would have reported even stronger sales but for the weather. “We estimate it was costing us around £40,000 a day in sales across the estate — around £2,000 per pub per day. "But it was still a brilliant month. We had double digit sales growth overall with every single pub up on last year — and we had a phenomenal December last year. "We were up by 20% last week — with three of our pubs doing £15,000 of net turnover on New Year’s Eve.” He said Realpubs benefited from sales momentum and goodwill from the previous December and kept Christmas meal packages at an affordable £19.50 for two courses and £22.50 for three. Adam Marshall, managing director of London-based Grand Union Group, said the company had sales growth compared to the year before. But the heavy snow in London on the Saturday before Christmas had “killed the lead-up to Christmas”. He added: “However, New Year’s Eve was remarkable — three of our sites had booming New Year’s Eves and most were up on the year before.” Marshall said he was hoping for benign weather this month — January 2009 had been “horrific” with heavy snow in the first week of the month. Jillian MacLean, managing director of London-based bar operator Drake & Morgan, said the snow did have an impact in the first week of December, but thankfully the company was able to move some bookings to the second week of the month and others to January. There was like for like growth at the two sites the company operated during the festive period last year, the Parlour in Canada Square Park and the Refinery on Bankside, while trading at its new sites — the Anthologist in Gresham Street and the Folly in Canary Wharf - went “exceptionally well”. “London seems to be in its own bubble,” MacLean said. “Overall, trading was really strong. particularly in the break between Christmas and New Year.” Tony Brookes, managing director of nine-strong north-east based Head of Steam, said he was “quietly optimistic” about the company’s Christmas trading, but had yet to obtain official figures. “I’ve got a feeling it was quite good from the beginning of December,” he said. Without exact figures for Christmas bookings, Brookes said that “in general they were down a little with people going out on spec”. “We’ve found that over the last few years the Christmas rush has got closer and closer to Christmas itself,” he added. Town & City Pub Company chief executive Toby Smith said the group, which includes Yates's and Slug & Lettuce, was up overall on last year, despite the snow. "The early snow was frustrating but we were able to re-book parties," he said. "New Year's Eve was very good." Town and City is to hold its headline prices despite the VAT increase to 20% in January. "We are not doing any crazy sales but just offering strong deals all year round," said Smith. Mike Inman, managing director of Ossett Brewing Company, said December trading was quite poor overall, with bad snow affecting trade early on. Christmas week was down 5% on the previous year, while New Year week was up by the same amount. "It's swings and roundabouts," said Inman. "Altogether, we were up a bit." He said pubs in areas most affected by cutbacks, such as Halifax in West Yorkshire, fared the worst.