Pub and restaurant sales were flat last month and the industry expects to endure a tougher year than last, according to a respected industry survey.
The results of the monthly Peach Tracker, produced by CGA Peach in partnership with Coffer Group, RSM and UBS, found like-for-like sales were flat at 0.0% across the country, well down from January's 1.9% LFL rise.
London was a shade better, with a 0.9% increase in LFL sales, as the provinces declined 0.3%.
The tracker, which monitors the outlets under the various brands of 31 major operators including Mitchells & Butlers, Whitbread, Greene King's Spirit pubs, Marston's, Carluccio's, Young's and Tesco's Giraffe Restaurants, found casual dining chains collectively did better than the wider pub and bar market, with LFL sales up 1.6% compared to the same month a year ago, against a 0.8% fall for managed pubs.
Reflecting the level of openeings and refurbishment, particularly among restaurant groups outside of London, total sales for the month among the 31 companies in the Tracker cohort were up 3.2% year on year.
CGA Peach vice president Peter Martin said the numbers would be a disappointment for the sector, after the bright start to the year, "but they reflect a growing sense in the market that 2016 will be a tougher year than last".
He added that the rate of restaurant openings was slowing slightly this year "as the market perhaps becomes a little more cautious".
CGA Peach's survey of 260 senior executives in the sector found confidence about the market still high, with 75% either optimistic or very optimistic, though this was down on the 93% recorded this time last year.
Trevor Watson, executive director at Davis Coffer Lyons, took a sanguine view that the market was showing a "steady as she goes progress" in terms of overall sales, with like for like figures being pegged back by the rate of new openings.
He added: "In spite of insatiable operator demand for sites, the rate of new openings does appear to be slowing slightly, which is a trend we expect to see continue for much of 2016.
"Although consumer confidence is steady, we expect to see some business investment decisions held back until after the referendum which could lead to increased corporate activity in Q3 and Q4 of 2016."