New UK restaurant openings soar as pubs dwindle

 
Kasmira Jefford
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There are now more restaurants with licences in the UK than community locals (Source: Getty)
The number of restaurants across the UK surpassed the number of pubs that are predominantly drinking holes for the first time this year, fuelled by the booming casual dining trend and improving consumer confidence.

Research released yesterday by AlixPartners and CGA Peach reveals that a net 1,770 new restaurants opened in the year to 30 June – up 6.9 per cent on the previous year.

This contrasts with a 4.4 per cent decline in drink-led pubs and bars, which have struggled in the wake of the smoking ban and from increasing competition from food-led pubs and restaurant chains.

As a result there are now more restaurants with licences in the UK than so-called wet-led community locals – at 27,500 against 26,700.

Meanwhile, branded food pubs saw a nine per cent growth in numbers over the year – and the bulk of overall growth in restaurants came from the, largely branded, chain restaurant market, CGA Peach and Alix Partners said.

Among these are Frankie & Benny’s owner The Restaurant Group, which has been accelerating its expansion plans to the point of opening one new restaurant nearly every week. Meanwhile, pub group Mitchells & Butlers has opened 11 new sites and converted 43 to into core food-led brands, including Toby Carvery.

The sector has also sparked intense interest from private-equity players looking to capitalise on this growth. London-listed Italian chain Prezzo was taken off the market earlier this year after agreeing to a £304m takeover by private equity group TPG. Casual Dining Group, owned by buy-out firm Apollo, bought La Tasca and Las Iguanas in July.

London remains the biggest market for eating and drinking out, with the number of sites up 3.3 per cent over the past year. However, other cities have also been sharing in the growth, including Leicester and Bristol. The number of food-led sites rose by 14.3 per cent and 10 per cent respectively.

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