Confidence is starting to return to the eating and drinking-out sector — but there remains a gap between the optimism that leaders of Britain’s restaurant, pub and bar groups have about their own businesses and their confidence in the market as a whole.
That’s the verdict of the latest CGA Fourth Business Confidence Survey, carried out in May by business insight consultancy CGA in partnership with hospitality software provider Fourth.
It reveals that 75% of company leaders are now optimistic about the prospects for their own business over the next 12 months — 11 percentage points more than at the time of the last confidence survey in February.
There is also an upswing in bosses’ confidence for the overall market, although the survey found that less than half (47%) are upbeat about prospects for the wider eating and drinking out sector over the next 12 months.
This also represents an 11 percentage points increase on three months earlier, with both figures the highest recorded by the survey since February 2016.
However, they are still below the levels seen before the Brexit vote. In February, three quarters of leaders said their businesses had been adversely affected by the consequences of the referendum.
“The more upbeat tone of the survey appears at odds with the recent news of some high profile restaurant closures in the first half of this year, driven by business challenges including rising food, people and property costs and the uncertainty surrounding Brexit,” said CGA’s CEO Phil Tate.
“But it might be because of this market shake out, coupled with more stable food prices, that business executives are now gaining more confidence,” he added.
Experts have likened the situation in the restaurant market to the one faced by the pub industry a few years ago, when it was oversaturated with struggling brands. A period of market consolidatiom ultimately relieved the pressure and provided opportunities for better brands.
Ben Hood, CEO of Fourth, said: “In the face of challenging external headwinds in rising costs of both labour and inventory, there remains a cohort of outstanding operators who are constantly looking inwardly at their businesses and investing in the marketing and technology they need to increase efficiencies and improve their offer and the customer experience. There will always be an appetite for spending on food and drink among UK consumers, it’s ingrained in our culture, and these slick, streamlined businesses are in pole position to thrive over the coming years.”
Mr Tate noted that the continuing gap between market and individual business confidence was a cause for concern as it highlighted an underlying nervousness that might affect corporate investment and growth decisions.
But with CGA data indicating that people continue to go out to eat and drink, the results show that there is plenty of room for distinctive, customer-focused brands to succeed.
He concluded: “After a tough start to 2018, this latest Business Confidence Survey is a welcome reminder that hospitality remains an essentially upbeat industry. CGA’s research shows that like-for-like sales growth is modest, and that many restaurant, pub and bar operators have scaled back their new openings plans — but conditions that challenge some businesses can also bring opportunities for others.”
The CGA Fourth Business Confidence Survey is produced in partnership with Fourth and is based on responses from 160 leading figures from the industry, working at CEO, MD, chairman, board and senior management levels.