The freak February heatwave provided rare cheer for the struggling UK pub trade as Britons sought out beer gardens to soak up the sunshine.
The monthly snapshot of trading at major chains, including All Bar One, Yates and Chef & Brewer, recorded growth of 1.4% at pubs open for more than one year. Bars focused on serving drinks rather than meals were the strongest performers, with London out-performing the rest of Britain, according to the Coffer Peach business tracker.
“The mini-heatwave towards the end of the month certainly boosted pub trading, and also helped restaurant sales, as people enjoyed the unseasonal sunshine,” said Karl Chessell, director of consultancy CGA which produces the tracker based on sales data from 51 pub and restaurant groups with a combined turnover of more than £9bn.
The picture was less sunny, however, for restaurateurs with chain restaurants – a sample that includes Pizza Express and Carluccio’s – suffering a 1.7% decline, as Britons cut back on meals out.
Last week the owner of the Giraffe and Ed’s Easy Diner chains said it was shutting 27 restaurants, in the latest round of closures in the so-called casual dining crunch that halted a period of rapid expansion.
“The branded restaurant sector is still suffering from declining sales, and despite a better end to the month, early February was generally poor for restaurants,” Chessell said. “Even within the managed pub market food sales are under pressure.”
The unseasonal weather also provided a brief fillip for struggling high streets. Shopper visits were down 2% over the four weeks to 23 February – the weakest reading for five years – although there was a mild resurgence when the sun came out according to the BRC-Springboard footfall tracker.
“We only started to see the record temperatures in the final week when footfall rose by 2.5% compared with drops in each of the preceding three weeks, averaging 3.6%,” said Diane Wehrle, Springboard’s marketing and insights director.
Last week struggling department store chain Debenhams said underlying sales were down 6% as it issued a fresh profit warnings. The downturn also claimed the scalp of upmarket fashion chain LK Bennett which collapsed into administration, putting 500 jobs at risk. The administrators, who immediately closed five of its 39 standalone stores, said significant rent increases and business rate rises had put additional pressure on the company’s finances.
“Consumers have been cautious in their spending, leading to the biggest drop in February footfall for five years,” said Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium. “While real incomes have been rising over the last year, the uncertainty surrounding Brexit appears to be driving a needs-not-wants approach to shopping.”