Friday's Rugby World Cup opening night was like St Patrick's Day all over again at O'Carroll's, an Irish Bar in central Auckland's Vulcan Lane.

"I don't think anybody expected it to be as big as it was," said duty manager Lynsay McLeish, who hails from Oban on Scotland's west coast.

She said O'Carroll's and the bars on either side of it - The Occidental and Queen's Ferry Hotel - were "mobbed", but the customers were well behaved and out to have a good time.

Normal Friday night sales were about a third of the Irish bar's turnover on the tournament's opening night, McLeish said.


She said that by 8pm the bar was so full revellers had to be turned away.

According to statistics from electronic payments provider Paymark yesterday, an extra $1.3 million flowed through the terminals of hospitality operators linked to its network between midday Friday and midday Saturday, compared with the same period last year.

Saturday was the busiest day for hospitality businesses across Northland and Auckland, with transactions totalling $5 million, Paymark said.

And spending picked up even before the tournament began.

In the seven days to Thursday last week, spending - excluding fuel - rose 11.8 per cent in Auckland and Northland and 10.9 per cent across the country as a whole.

Paymark said car rentals over the weekend were 46.6 per cent higher than the same period last year.

Spending in Canterbury rose 13.3 per cent in the three days to Sunday, year-on-year, while in Otago it lifted 6.6 per cent.

But the hospitality sector in other parts of the country saw a decline in sales, according to Paymark.

In the Bay of Plenty spending at the weekend fell 5.7 per cent, compared with the same weekend last year, while in Hawkes Bay it dropped 4.4 per cent and in Palmerston North it plunged 11.2 per cent.

Colleen Maxwell, owner of Palmerston North's Masonic Hotel and a branch president for the Hospitality Association, said businesses in the region were still waiting to see benefit from the tournament.

"The World Cup has had no impact so far on our business," she said. "A lot of the hoteliers I've been talking to around town haven't got bookings ... We're sort of wondering if it's going to happen."

Overseas tourist spending increased sharply between Friday and Sunday, according to Paymark, with foreign card spending up 27.4 per cent - an extra $2.8 million - compared with the same period in 2010.

McLeish said the staff at O'Carroll's were digging in for a busy few weeks.