British pub group JD Wetherspoon said today it was "cautiously optimistic" about the current financial year after its 25-week sales, which includes the year-end holiday season, fell below pre-pandemic levels.

Still recovering from pandemic lows, pubs and restaurants are grappling with both rising input costs related to labour, food and energy and customers cutting spending amid a cost-of-living crunch.

The company has more than 900 pubs and hotels across Britain and Ireland, with 85% of those outlets located in England.

Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin revived the discourse on value-added tax saying the "vast disparity" in treatment between pubs and supermarkets was allowing the latter to subsidise beer prices.

"We estimate that supermarkets have taken about half of the pub industry's beer volumes since Wetherspoon started trading in 1979, a process that has likely accelerated following the pandemic," Martin added.

Like-for-like sales for a near six-month period to January 22 were 0.7% lower than the corresponding period immediately before Covid. Performance dropped further - by 2% - in the last 12 weeks.

This underscored the hit to trading during the traditionally strong festive season.

However, the pub group's like-for-like sales was 13.1% higher for the 25 weeks from a year earlier.