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UK on-trade gears up for bumper festive season

Published:  01 December, 2014

Bars and restaurants are heralding a bumper festive season, with bookings so far 5-10% ahead of last year.

Christmas drinksThe UK on-trade feels confident heading into the festive seasonBookings are ahead on last year, even at this early stage, and sparkling wine is tipped for further growth over Christmas.

Although consumers are not looking to be extravagant, they are keen to get out and enjoy themselves over Christmas, say operators, and have been booking parties in since late October, offering strong signs for a busy festive season to come.    

Over at Corney & Barrow, which runs 10 outlets in London, on-trade sales manager Tessa John told that bookings for Christmas were up by between 5-8% on last year, and had started early. "We've been getting bookings from late October and early November. Previously people had been leaving it to the last minute, or hoping to avoid doing it. It's such good news to be upfront.

"There's more buoyancy this year. People aren't going to be extravagant, but they want to be out and enjoying themselves."

A spokeswoman for Mitchells & Butlers, which operates 1,700 pubs, bars and restaurants, including All Bar One and Browns, echoed the sentiment, saying it had "already taken more bookings this year for the Christmas period and the day itself, than last year". So far it said bookings were up around 10% for Christmas Day itself, and by around 5% for the whole of the Christmas period. 

It's still early days, and operators expect even more bookings to come flooding in over the next few weeks.

James Jones, wine marketing manager at D&D London, which operates 34 restaurants including Le Pont de La Tour and Chelsea's Bluebird, told that it was "expecting a strong Christmas period, both in terms of core restaurant business and for events". He identified a strengthening in the corporate market, which he said should be "very good" in December. He added that there has been "huge interest" over the past month in the newly re-launched Quaglino's. 

Festive wine trends

As for trends on the wine side for the festive period, C&B's John said there have been "quite a few queries for low oak reds, which is a bit of a surprise". Wines such as its The Lane Shiraz Viognier, which still has the intensity of fruit to deal with winter menus, are doing well, she said.

Sparkling wine is set to continue its upward trajectory over the festive period, she said, and although Prosecco is still putting in a strong performance, she said Champagne's Brut and Blanc de Blancs styles were also performing well, especially since they work well with food.

M&B is also expecting a strong performance from bubbles. "We have been experiencing significant long term growth in sparkling wine, driven by Prosecco but also evident in Champagne and we expect this trend to accelerate further over the festive period as our guests look to celebrate with us," a spokeswoman said. She also expects growth from spirits.  

Over at D&D, increasing consumer confidence has been reflected in a rising appetite for larger format wines. "We have seen growing interest in larger formats all year - magnums and bigger - and expect to really see that trend grow in December."

It also tipped sweet wines for success, with sales at its City of London New Street Grill and wine shop building in the past few weeks. Interest in more unusual sweet wines is also on the cards, said Jones, with Canadian Ice wine, Tokaji, Maury and Madeira proving more popular.

"Port sales will be strong, as you would expect, although perhaps not quite as strong as years gone by. Many of our restaurants have been developing their range of Ports. For example, at Paternoster Chophouse, they are showcasing vintage ports from 1970 - 1994.  There is a big range of tawny ports to try by the glass at Le Pont de la Tour in Shad Thames," Jones added.