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EDITOR’S VIEW: It’s official: kitchens are now the bedrocks of pubs

The Admiralty, London 3

It has been more of an evolution than a revolution, but anybody who has tracked the pub sector over the last 10 years will be well aware of the food transformation that has taken place.

Establishments that were once renowned for serving up the most basic hot food to keep hungry drinkers’ appetites in check are now responsible for some of the best value, provenance-led offers around.

New data from the Office of National Statistics reveals just how much this has reshaped the industry, with the percentage of kitchen and waiting staff now overtaking bar staff for the first time.

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In 2003, bar staff made up roughly four in 10 employees while those involved in the serving of food — including chefs, cooks, waiting staff, and kitchen and catering staff — accounted for around three in 10 employees.

Since 2016, the opposite has been true, with those serving food outnumbering those working behind the bar.

The shift towards customers spending on food rather than drink has driven the growth in employment, with the share of pub employees working as bar staff falling from 37.6% in 2007 to 28.9% in 2019.

Meanwhile, the percentage employed as kitchen and waiting staff increased from 29.1% to 43.8% over the same period as the sector has diversified its offer in the foodservice area.

The tendency for pub and bar enterprises to employ more people serving food is a clear reaction to changing consumer habits, accentuated by a long-term trend towards people spending more of their household income on eating out and less on drinking out.

Interestingly, while the total number of pubs fell from 51,120 to 39,130 between 2007 and 2019, total employment grew from 426,000 to 457,000 over the same period, which can also be attributed to the need for larger kitchen teams.

On an annual basis, there has been a small rise in the number of pubs of all sizes this year, including smaller pubs employing 10 people, which had previously been falling at the fastest rate.

With food, rather than drink, driving the growth, it’s no exaggeration to say kitchens hold the key to the sector’s future prospects.

EDITOR’S VIEW: Could the most powerful worker in your kitchen be the one that doesn’t walk or talk?

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Andrew Seymour

The author Andrew Seymour

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