Trading will remain tough within the eating out market during the next 18 months with only modest growth expected, according to industry analysts Horizons, writes Chris Druce. Horizons predicts the sector will grow by around £850m during the period to a new value of £42.8bn, which is likely to keep competition for custom intense. Peter Backman, managing director of Horizons, said: “Despite uncertainty about the economy and the election outcome, consumers are still eating out, although they are clearly spending less than they did. “Operators are going to have to perform better than customers expect in order to improve trading.” Backman added that the London Olympic Games in 2012 could be a boon for the eating out market in the capital bringing in an additional £145m. Despite the tough trading environment, operators are starting to push through rises with the average cost of a starter up 8% to £5.27 during the last twelve months and the average main course up 1.4% to £8.98. Since January 2009 the price of a three-course pub meal has risen 6% to £15.74, while a three-course restaurant meal is up 5.1% to £20.47. Research of 100 high street brands from Horizons, presented yesterday at the firm’s first annual briefing held at Coutts & Co in London, revealed that the use of retail brands within the eating out sector (such as Heinz Baked Beans at Little Chef and Ben & Jerry’s at Gourmet Burger Kitchen) are becoming ever more commonplace in an attempt to woo consumers. Operators are also making more use of provenance-related labelling such as “organic Shetland salmon”, with terms such as “farm-assured” and “line-caught” appearing on more menus.