Casual Dining is big business in the UK — and with growing consumer confidence and spending there is still a long way before the market reaches saturation point.
That was the verdict of experts at the recent Casual Dining show in London who predicted that even in the face of strong competition and high rents there was scope for existing and new formats to flourish.
Peter Backman, managing director of the insights firm Horizons, said the casual dining market is now worth more than £7 billion a year to operators, while Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR), said that the improving economic landscape was encouraging entrepreneurism.
“This is certainly the most intense and ferocious period in licensed hospitality I can remember, with sophisticated operators expanding and evolving to meet the demands of increasingly savvy customers,” she said.
Discussing the ALMR’s 2014 Benchmarking Report, she said that licensed hospitality was “outgrowing the wider economy”, with “food-led and town centre venues seeing 9.8% like-for-like growth”. Nicholls also revealed that 1,000 new restaurants opened in 2014, with a further 1,000 predicted for this year.
Casual dining formats predicted to thrive in 2015 included all day/flexible, premium fast food, premium casual dining, and street food/pop-ups.
Buyers from a number of the big groups attended this year’s show, including The Restaurant Group, Mitchells and Butlers, Marston’s, Prezzo, Wagamama, Strada, Byron, Fuller, Smith & Turner, Greene King, Stonegate Pub Co, Whitbread and Casual Dining Group, the new name for Tragus, owner of the Bella Italia and Café Rouge brands.
Tim Foster, the fantastically titled ‘head of being awesome’ at The Yummy Pub Co, was at the show and he said it was good to see the latest kit on offer: “Innovation is the life blood of the casual dining market. It doesn’t just have to be for the casual diners, we can all benefit from the huge advances in innovation, product development and technology. Casual Dining 2015 had a great number of these suppliers on offer and was definitely worth the journey.”
David George, head of food development at Greene King, meanwhile, praised the “focus, attention to detail, accessibility and organisation” of the event.