Branded restaurant chains are facing a run for their money in the north of England, new research claims.
A study commissioned by the Northern Restaurant & Bar (NRB) has revealed a boom in the numbers of independent restaurants around the UK despite consumers’ fears of increasingly homogenised high streets and the march of the chains during the last three years.
It tracked the number of independent restaurants – those having only one or two sites – in the UK’s major city centres over the last three years.
The results show that cities in the north, such as Newcastle and Leeds, have led the way with growth rates far outstripping traditional restaurant hotspots such as London and Edinburgh.
Thom Hetherington, CEO of NRB, said: “Despite high streets having a torrid time the figures clearly show consumers are hungry to support smaller local restaurant operators, with the North performing particularly well. Visitor registration to NRB is at record levels, demonstrating the confidence and ambition of operators in the regions.”
Produced in partnership with CGA, the study revealed that Leeds and Newcastle lead the way with a 12.8% increase in the number of independent restaurants.
Both cities have retained strong business communities and have thriving universities and Leeds, in particular, has actively nurtured its start-up restaurant scene with the Independent Food and Drink Academy offering support and advice and the successful Leeds Indie Food festival giving entrepreneurs a platform to promote themselves.
Although London still stands apart in terms of the scale and depth of its restaurant scene, commentators note that escalating costs mean the regions and the north in particular now offers genuine opportunity for ambitious operators.
Gary Usher, chef-patron of Hispi in South Manchester, said: “I couldn’t have opened restaurants in London as I have in the North of England. The economics and audiences are different, and that gave me the opportunity.”
Sheffield, less affected by an influx of national chains, also performed well with 8.5% growth, beating London’s 7.4%, with Liverpool close behind on 6.5%.
Although not included in this specific survey, smaller Northern cities also performed well, with Sunderland and Hull topping the overall national charts with incredible growth rates of 23.4% and 17.2% respectively, the latter benefiting from the interest generated by its recent “UK City of Culture” award.
According to the research, the relatively mature restaurant scenes in Edinburgh and Manchester offered less opportunity for independents with only 1.6% and 3.1% growth respectively, though the two cities had the largest independent restaurant scenes outside London, with almost twice as many sites as the other largest provincial cities.
Jamie Campbell, director of CGA Peach, said: “Manchester is interesting, in that its city centre restaurant scene, covered by this survey, has surged hugely in the last decade. The scene is still incredibly dynamic and many ‘independent’ operators have now grown to encompass five or more sites, and increased costs and a lack of available sites mean the current generation of entrepreneurial chefs and restaurateurs are looking to the suburbs for affordable opportunities.”
Three-Year Growth in Number of Independent Restaurants in Major UK Cities