Regional big cities catching up with London in eating-out stakes

London remains the indisputable hotbed of eating and drinking out in the UK, but more and more restaurant and bar operators are putting their focus on the nation’s other big cities for their openings.

Latest figures from MarketGrowthMonitor, the quarterly measure of GB pub, bar and restaurant openings and closures produced by AlixPartners and CGA Peach, show that food-led sites in the capital increased by 13.4% over the five years to March, but by 22.4% in other big British cities.

Cardiff, Leeds and Liverpool have all seen their supply of licensed premises increase by more than a fifth over the last five years, with the likes of York, Newcastle and Manchester not far behind. London does not even make the top 10, although its stock of licensed premises is still greater than the rest of the cities on the list put together.

“Growth in regional cities is in part a consequence of the toughness of the London market. With competition so fierce and property costs so high, established operators have been looking well beyond the capital for their growth opportunities,” said CGA Peach business unit director Jamie Campbell.

But another underlying trend is big cities playing catch-up. While places like Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Cardiff have always been well stocked with pubs and bars, their range of restaurants has, per capita, been way below that of London.

“With so many chains flocking in, the choice and quality of eating in these and many other cities is unrecognisable now from as recently as a decade ago. And with increasing numbers of people preferring to eat out than drink out, there is plenty of scope for this trend to continue. Regional cities will never the same intense concentrations of restaurants as London, but there is no doubt that they are narrowing the gap with the capital,” added Campbell.

Big cities are catching up with London in another way too: with the rise of small, dynamic operators. The London scene is dominated by independents and emerging groups, with 64% of restaurants are operated by groups with fewer than 25 sites, up substantially from 51% five years ago. And this change is also now evident in other big cities, where small operators account for 40% of restaurants, up from 34% five years ago.

“This shows that for all the talk of identikit high streets, the majority of new restaurants are being opened by fledgling multi-site operators and indies. London still leads on this front and its diversity is unparalleled. But numerous exciting new operators have been born in the regional cities and are thriving there, Red’s True Barbecue, San Carlo, Thaikhun and Living Ventures to name just four,” said Campbell.

The AlixPartners and CGA Peach Market Growth Monitor is compiled quarterly from data supplied by CGA’s Outlet Index, a continually updated database of all licensed premises. For more information, contact CGA Peach account director Jamie Campbell at jamie.campbell@cgapeach.co.uk.

The Monitor is delivered in partnershipwith AlixPartners, the leading global financial advisory firm. Contact managing director Paul Hemming at phemming@alixpartners.com.