Frankie & Benny's is caught cold as winter chill hits its revenues
Restaurant chain Frankie & Benny's, which has three branches in Northern Ireland, is counting the cost of the winter chill after a decline in casual dining during the first quarter.
Chain owner The Restaurant Group said that the sector continues to suffer from a slowdown in consumer spending.
The company, which also owns other brands including Garfunkel's, Joe's Kitchen and Chiquito, was hit by a 4.3% fall in like-for-like sales in the 20 weeks to May 20.
Total revenue for the first quarter of 2018 dropped 3.1% at The Restaurant Group, which said: "Trading in the period was heavily impacted by the adverse weather, and on an underlying basis, excluding the impact of snow, like-for-like sales were down 3.1%."
In the first seven weeks of the second quarter, like-for-like sales were also down, by 1.8%.
Chief executive Andy McCue is overseeing a turnaround at the firm, which has seen a revamp of pricing, food quality and marketing, as well as restaurant closures.
A branch of Chiquito closed at Victoria Square in Belfast city centre in 2016.
The company also closed branches of Frankie & Benny's in Ballymena, Coleraine and Derry.
These were among 33 of its UK outlets earmarked for closure following a pre-tax loss of £22.5million for the first half of that year.
The company has shut down 26 out of a planned 41 outlets so far this year.
The group said it was "comfortable with the performance" and expected to see "further benefit" from its strategic initiatives as the year progresses.
It added: "Our strategic initiatives are driving improved performance in our leisure business in a market in which like-for-like sales remain challenging."
Shares were up 4% in morning trade.
The results come at an increasingly challenging time for the casual dining sector.
Burger chain Byron, Jamie's Italian and Prezzo have all undertaken company voluntary arrangements this year, which saw hundreds of jobs lost and restaurants closed down.
Soaring costs linked to the Brexit-hit pound, the resultant collapse in consumer confidence and rising business rates have combined to hammer the sector, with more pain forecast.
Meanwhile, soft drinks giant Britvic has seen half-year profits tumble after it was stung by costs related to a factory closure in Norwich.
The group saw pre-tax profit fall from £50.1m to £41.8m.