Tuesday 31 May 2016 5:58 pm

Leon and Wagamama lead the way as casual dining and pub grub drive new restaurant and bar openings

Just when you thought you'd had enough, casual dining and food-led pubs are helping to drive new openings in the UK's bar and restaurant market. 

Entrepreneurial food-driven businesses like Leon and Wagamama, and the conversion of drink-led ventures into gastropubs by pub groups are helping to offset the decline in marginal sites.

The latest quarterly growth figures from Market Growth Monitor, from AlixPartners and CGA Peach, also show a slight dip in the overall numbers of licensed premises.

As of this March there were 123,732 licensed premises in the UK, 0.5 per cent fewer than last year, but 4.4 per cent fewer than 2011. 

"This is a relatively small year-on-year fall, and may only be a blip, as it contrasts with the last three quarterly reports, all of which showed the country’s stock of licensed premises in net growth over the previous 12 months," CGA Peach's vice president Peter Martin said.

Read more: Easter celebrations boost spending at pubs and restaurants in March

"But it does reflect a general slowing down in the eating out sector on both the business and consumer side over the last six months or so."

Britain's stock of pubs and bars fell by almost three per cent in the last year, and by 10 per cent over the last five years, while net closures totalled 5,778 in the same period. 

Restaurants have made up much of this shortfall, and there are now 0.6 per cent more than there were a year ago, and a huge 21.3 per cent more than five years ago. 

Over the past three years, restaurant groups with between five and 25 sites have grown site numbers by 39 per cent, or around a net 500 new openings, while growth among established brands with over 100 sites was a more modest 13 per cent, or just under 300 net new openings.

"Perhaps unsurprisingly net site supply in the pub and restaurant market is now trending more in line with the movement in demand – which has proved relatively flat so far in 2016," AlixPartners' managing director Paul Hemming said. 

Read more: Cold weather and early Easter hit the pub trade in April

"This is of course at the macro level. The overall picture masks a three-tier world. At the top we see strong performance being reported by both a selection of established operators and exciting newcomers. Businesses like Wagamama, Las Iguanas and Blanc Brasserie or Red’s True Barbecue, The Botanist and Leon are showing there is plenty of growth for well-run offers that fit a target market.

"We then see the bulk of the market producing flat-to-plus-three like-for-like sales, with a tail of offerings, including the likes of Frankie & Benny’s, finding the current competitive market conditions challenging after years of success," he added.

"As the competitive nature of the market becomes more pronounced, so are the experiences of the winning concepts versus the rest."