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UK pub group Marston's offers not too dear Christmas cheer

FILE PHOTO: The spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Burton-on-Trent

By Aby Jose Koilparambil

(Reuters) -Christmas dinners at Marston's will cost up to 10% more this year, the British pub group said on Tuesday, but said it would be serving all the trimmings and bookings were higher so far than pre-pandemic levels for this year's festive season.

The price rise is lower than inflation in Britain, which reached a 41-year-high in November, leaving business facing the dilemma of how much they can pass on to customers of higher costs, including food and energy, without destroying demand.

CEO Andrew Andrea said he had not yet seen evidence Marston's was losing customers and recent sales had been boosted by England's performance in the ongoing soccer World Cup taking place in Qatar.

For the Christmas period, the company has said total bookings were so far higher than in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, but it has not given precise figures and said walk-in trade accounts for much of its festive sales.

"We are not the cheapest, but similarly we are not the most expensive. So I think we are picking up good value," Andrea told Reuters after the company returned to annual profitability.

Marston's, which has over 1,500 pubs and bars across Britain, will increase prices by between 5%-10%, Andrea said.

Marston's has already lifted the price of its food and drinks twice in 2022. Beverages account for around 60% of its overall revenue, while food items make up the rest.

Andrea said prices could rise again early next year.

The company's pre-tax profit came in at 27.7 million pounds ($33.77 million) for the 52 weeks ended Oct. 2, compared to a loss of 100 million pounds a year earlier. Its operating expenses jumped more than 72% to 684.2 million pounds.

The timing of the World Cup in Qatar, which was changed to avoid the extreme temperatures of the peak summer months, helped sales during the normally quiet November period.

($1 = 0.8203 pounds)

(Reporting by Aby Jose Koilparambil in Bengaluru; Editing by Rashmi Aich and Barbara Lewis)