San Carlo, the independent Italian restaurant group, said like-for-like sales rose 4.6% as over 250,000 people visited its restaurants during December.
The group, owned and run by the Distefano family, operates 21 restaurants under the San Carlo, Cicchetti, Fumo, Flying Pizza and Signor Sassi concepts.
Total sales over the five-week period to 5 January increased 14.8%, thanks to several new openings over the past year, including San Carlo in London’s St James’s and alto by San Carlo on the rooftop of Selfridges, Oxford Street. It also opened its fourth overseas restaurant in Riyadh, adding to existing locations in Qatar, Bangkok and Bahrain.
Marcello Distefano, managing director, said: “This was far and away the group’s best ever Christmas, with record customer numbers and sales across the group. Whilst customers may have cut back on the high street, they continued to indulge at the dining table, enjoying authentic Italian food with family and friends. The results support our decision to invest significantly last year in bringing our award-winning concepts to more locations at home and overseas.”
In a full year trading update, the group also reported that sales in its financial year ending September 2018 had increased 8.6% to £54.3m but said margins had come under pressure from rising costs, with underlying profit (EBITDA) falling back from £3.4m to £2.2m.
Mr Distefano added: “Like others in our sector, we’re seeing the adverse impact of rising costs on our margins – from labour to rents and rates – which hit our profit last year. Looking ahead, the uncertainty created by Brexit will undoubtedly continue to provide a challenging climate for the sector. Our investment programme has however helped to build the right mix of concepts and locations into our estate, which we believe puts us in a strong defensive position.”
Founder and chairman Carlo Distefano opened his first restaurant in Temple Street, Birmingham, in 1992, after originally emigrating from his native Sicily in the 1980s.