Most popular city for casual dining operators is not the one you think it is

Wagamama

The explosion of casual dining brands on the London restaurant scene is well-documented – but it is actually another UK city that tops the list of places the big restaurant chains are flocking to.  

New data suggests that Southampton stands firm as the top UK market hot spot for casual dining restaurants following a renewed investment in the city over the last few years.

An influx of operators has increased the number of food-led licensed premises in Southampton’s city centre by 10% in the last year and 17% in the last three years, according to the latest Market Growth monitor from AlixPartners and CGA.

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The number of restaurants alone rose by 11% between June 2016 and June 2017, and means that two-thirds of Southampton’s licensed premises are now food-led – a higher proportion than any other city centre in Britain, including London.

A large chunk of the new openings have been at the Westquay retail centre, where Hammerson’s new £85m Watermark leisure complex opened late last year.

AlixPartners said the retail centre now contained a “who’s who” of casual dining thanks to the presence of Pizza Hut, Pizza Express and Five Guys, as well as a “staging post” for brands expanding beyond London, including Cabana, Tortilla and Wahaca.

Smaller groups such as Kupp and Red Dog Saloon have also launched at the venue.

“Add in other fast growing names, including Bill’s, CAU, Real Greek, Thaikhun and Wagamama, and it is clear that Hammerson has made Westquay a magnet for casual dining brands. One of them, Nando’s, likes the development so much that it has opened at Westquay twice, on both the north and south sides of the complex,” the report said.

It noted that the flood of new openings isn’t all good news. Westquay has made Southampton an ultracompetitive battleground for casual dining, and it has sucked footfall away from parts of the city that are now much quieter.

While it concluded that it remains to be seen whether the Southampton market can sustain so many new arrivals, it branded it a “fine case study” of Britain’s recent boom in casual dining.

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Source: AlixPartners / CGA Market Growth Monitor

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