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UK's Marston's says Christmas bookings top 2019 levels

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

(Reuters) - British pub operator Marston's said on Monday Christmas bookings so far have topped pre-pandemic levels and so have sales since October, adding that customer behaviour has been undeterred by the cost-of-living crisis.

The outlook comments from Marston's come as the company pushed back the release of its annual results, citing a "procedural" delay in the completion of auditing accounts of its joint venture with Carlsberg UK.

The delay was at the request of Carlsberg's auditors, Marston's said, adding that it should be in a position to announce its full-year results ended Oct. 2 within the next week after being reassured of no disagreement between the auditors and Carlsberg Marston's Brewing Co.

Marston's was scheduled to report its results on Tuesday.

The Wolverhampton-based firm, which has over 1,500 pubs and bars across England, Scotland and Wales, said drink sales jumped about 50% compared to last year on the two England match days at the World Cup in Qatar.

Overall sales in its new financial year have so far risen about 7% versus last year, and 5% from pre-pandemic 2019 levels.

"We remain cognisant of the current macroeconomic environment," the company said.

"However ... there is little in our trading performance to suggest that there has been a change to consumer behaviour; our guests still want to go out and have an affordable treat in a Marston's pub," it added.

While bookings for the Christmas period have topped 2019 levels, Marston's said walk-ins still account for the bulk of its business during the Christmas period.

Marston's, which offers affordable beer ranges, is primed to take advantage of a Christmas season devoid of pandemic restrictions and with the unusual winter schedule of the football World Cup.

But that also comes at a time when UK businesses are worried over a deepening cost-of-living crisis, driven by dearer energy bills and food costs, forcing Britons to limit non-essential spending.

(Reporting by Aby Jose Koilparambil and Yadarisa Shabong in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli and David Evans)