The Ha! Ha! bar chain once again left the rest of Yates Group behind at Christmas, with a cheery 6.7% rise in like-for-like sales for the five weeks to January 4 compared to the same period in 2002. The 98 new-format "21st Century Yates" bars saw like-for-like sales up 2.3%, but the drag caused by the nine sites awaiting disposal meant like-for-like sales for the Yates brand as a whole were down 0.8% on 2002, meaning group like-for-likes including the 20 Ha! Ha! bars were down 0.2%. The continuing roll-out of the Ha! Ha! Bar & Canteen brand meant the chain saw an increase in overall sales for the period of 25.7%. Gross margins improved in both brands over the Christmas period thanks to tight control of promotional activity, and the imposition of admission charges in some bars on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, Yates said. It said overall trading remains in line with its expectations.