Sector like-for-likes down 1.8% in January: Britain’s managed pub and restaurant groups saw like-for-like sales fall 1.8% in January compared with the previous year, according to the latest Coffer Peach Business Tracker. Pub and restaurant operators both saw a drop in sales, although pubs did marginally better with collective like-for-likes down 1.4% against 2.5% for restaurant chains. Overall like-for-like trading in London was essentially in line with the rest of the country, down 1.9% compared with a 1.7% fall outside the M25. The big contrast was between managed pubs and group-owned restaurants in the capital, with the former down 0.5% against a more significant 4.1% sales decline for restaurants in January. The difference in performance was less stark outside the M25, with pubs’ like-for-likes down 1.6% and restaurants down 2.0%. “After strong trading over the festive season, which saw sector like-for-like sales 4.1% up on 2017, operators will be disappointed there has been no follow-through into January – even though the weather, and in particular the lack of snow early in the month, was better than last year,” said Karl Chessell, director of CGA, the business insight consultancy that produces the Tracker in partnership with Coffer Group and RSM. “However, it is worth remembering January is always a relatively quiet month. The first big test of the year for the market is the February half-term holidays, then Easter – although this year Brexit is bringing more anxiety for the industry. Branded restaurant operators continue to have a tougher time than pubs despite many closing under-performing sites in the last year. That is most marked inside the M25, where competition is more intense and consumers are more likely to look for, and find, somewhere new to try. Despite Dry January, drink sales in pubs held up better than food sales, down 0.7% compared with a 2.0% fall, suggesting underlying food growth in pubs appears to be peaking as competition and choice in the out-of-home sector increases generally and premiumisation of the drinks sector stimulates alcohol sales.” Trevor Watson, executive director, valuations at Davis Coffer Lyons, added: “The figures are indicative of the malaise affecting consumers in the post-Christmas period. Trading prospects are likely to remain weak, which mirrors statistics for the wider UK economy where there is a clear indication of a slowdown. The strongest innovative operators that continue to exceed customer expectations in terms of service and value are trading well, as indicated in Christmas trading statements.” Total sales across the 49 companies in the Tracker, which include the effect of net new openings since this time last year, were ahead 0.4% compared with last January. Underlying like-for-like growth for the Tracker cohort, which represents large and small groups, was running at 1.2% for the 12 months to the end of January.