Mitchells lifted by festive treats

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The owner of some of Britain’s best known pubs yesterday revealed busier-than-expected Christmas trading despite the economic storm clouds.

Harvester and Toby Carvery owner Mitchells & Butlers said customers were still keen to treat themselves, while milder weather also contributed to the 6.5 per cent jump in like-for-like sales for the nine weeks to January 21.

Trading since Christmas has been more subdued, however, with like-for-like sales back in the summer’s growth range of around 1 per cent. Mitchells also warned that costs in areas such as food, duty and energy remained a problem, although it is looking to mitigate this through higher sales and menu initiatives.

Mitchells, which is going through a major shake-up in the boardroom following several departures in the last year, has around 1,600 sites in the UK, including those trading as All Bar One, O’Neill’s and Crown Carveries. It serves an estimated 125 million meals and 425 million drinks a year.

Overall growth of 4.4 per cent for the first 17 weeks of the company’s financial year came in higher than market expectations.

Executive chairman Bob Ivell said: “These results reflect a successful Christmas performance. Although assisted by better weather, they show that customers are still keen to treat themselves even in a difficult economic environment.”

Mitchells said food sales were up 8.1 per cent in the nine-week period, with drink revenues ahead 5.4 per cent. Despite the improvement, analysts remained wary of prospects in light of the lacklustre performance during January.