Restaurant spending edged higher for the first time since the start of the pandemic in August according data from Barclaycard pointing to a bumper month for the consumer economy.

The figures showed overall consumer spending was ahead by 15.4% compared to the same period in 2019 before the coronavirus crisis – thanks to “socialising, shopping and staycations”.

Restaurants saw an increase of just 0.1% but it was the first positive growth for 17 months after long periods of lockdowns and restrictions.

Shoppers wearing facemasks inside a shopping centre in East London, during the easing of lockdown restrictions in England. Picture date: Sunday July 4, 2021.
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Retailers were boosted by demand for school and office wear

Elsewhere in the hospitality sector, pubs, bars and clubs saw a much sharper rise of 43.4%.

Theatre, festival and theme park tickets sales were also strong as were clothes, helped by demand for school uniforms and outfits for workers preparing to return to the office.

Travel agents and airlines remained in the doldrums, with each seeing spending more than 50% down on 2019 levels.

But spending on hotels, resort and accommodation in the UK grew for the third month in a row.

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Barclaycard’s data covers nearly half of Britain’s credit and debit card transactions.

Raheel Ahmed, Barclaycard’s head of consumer products, said: “Socialising, shopping, and staycations were top of the agenda for Brits in August, as families and friends made the most of the school holidays, giving a welcome boost to hospitality and leisure businesses.

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“Over the coming months, these sectors should also benefit from Brits returning to the office, as colleagues enjoy long overdue catch-ups over post-work meals and drinks.”

A survey of 2,000 people also conducted by the card provider showed consumer confidence at its highest level since February 2020 – but also indicated worries about rising prices.

Separate figures published by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) covering a narrower area of spending suggested a softening in the pent-up demand seen after lockdowns eased.

They showed sales in August up by 3% on last year, a weaker rate than in previous months, but also highlighted a strong performance for clothing driven by office wear.

Meanwhile digital retail platforms lost some ground, with online non-food sales dropping by 4.6% on last year though they still have a much bigger share of the market than before the pandemic.

In-store non-food sales over the summer months were still down by 3.5% on 2019 levels.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “As post-lockdown pent-up demand has softened, the growth in retail sales we have seen over the past few months slowed for August.

“Nonetheless, we still saw growth above pre-pandemic levels, as people returned to stores in greater numbers.

“With wedding season in full swing and workers gradually returning to the office, formalwear was a strong performer.”

Signs of a better month in August will be welcome for the sector after official figures showed a sharp drop in July blamed on factors including poor weather and a rise in COVID-19 cases.

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