Like-for-like sales across the UK’s eating and drinking out sector fell 2.1% in January against the same period in 2011, which benefited from a bounce-back in spending after a poor, snow-hit December, when many people stayed home. The latest Coffer Peach Business Tracker, which examines sales performance across 23 major pub and restaurant operators, reported a 2.2% rise in total sales in January compared to the previous year. Performance across the eating and drinking out sectors slowed after a bumper Christmas trading period, with like-for-likes up 9.9% in December on the same period last year and total sales ahead 13.7%. The results of the survey, which looked at companies including Mitchells & Butlers, Gondola, Whitbread and Spirit Group, brings to an end six months of consecutive growth across the eating and drinking-out-of-home market. Richard Hathaway, KPMG’s head of Travel, Leisure & Tourism, said: “The January figures reveal a relatively slow start to 2012 and the likely impact of the current cold weather in the UK means February will probably not look very different. Trading conditions remain tough and they are likely to be with us for a while. However, given the tough economic environment, low consumer confidence and the continuing squeeze on disposable incomes, the growth that has been achieved over the past 18 months is remarkable and shows just how resilient the UK’s eating and drinking out market is.” Mark Sheehan, managing director of Coffer Corporate Leisure, said: “January was a tough trading month for pub and restaurant operators, with many experiencing the hangover after a relatively strong Christmas period. Although consumer confidence is weak, the outlook does appear rosier and investors and aggressively looking to invest in the sector as an alternative to retail.” Jonathan Leinster, head of UBS European Leisure Research, said: “Concerns over UK consumer spending are not new, and are likely to linger. Nevertheless, the operational performance of most pub groups has been relatively solid of late, with two-year growth last negative in May 2011. Despite rising unemployment, consumers are still happy to allocate discretionary spend to eating and drinking out. The latest UBS UK household cash flow published in November indicates that cashflow pre-savings should rise 1.6% in the current year, a significant improvement on 2011.”