Adding sizzling and spicy food to pub menus has helped give the owner of the Chef & Brewer and Fayre & Square brands a pre-Christmas sales boost.
Spirit Pub Company, which has around 1,350 pubs, said like-for-like sales increased by 6.2 per cent in the 16 weeks to December 10, a faster rate of growth than in the first eight weeks of the period, with food sales up 7.9 per cent.
Demand for food at its traditionally drink-led pubs was boosted by the roll out of its Flaming Grill concept, which offers dishes such as firecracker fajitas, flaming skillets and sweet chilli salmon on sizzling onions, to 68 pubs by the end of its first quarter.
Spirit, demerged from Punch Taverns in the summer, said the mild autumn weather also helped boost sales across the estate.
Meanwhile, Punch Taverns, said the declines in like-for-like income at its core estate of 2,948 leasehold pubs improved in the period, although a better performance in the south of the UK was offset by declines in the north.
Food has become increasingly important for pubs in the wake of the smoking ban and the trend towards buying cheaper alcohol from supermarkets.
Spirit said it had refurbished 108 pubs in its first quarter, with a significant number of these understood to be conversions to the Flaming Grill brand. It said it has now largely completed the refurbishment of its 130 Chef & Brewer pubs and will shift its focus to its Fayre & Square, Flaming Grill and John Barras brands.
The group believes it is on track to deliver its full-year expectations even though it fears the economy will become more challenging.