Restaurants lead UK’s high street renaissance, new CBRE research reveals

Catering outlets including restaurants are the only category of chain operator to have seen unbroken growth in UK branch numbers over the last 17 years according to CBRE, the commercial property and real estate services advisor.

In its study of UK retail, CBRE analysed data supplied by Retail Locations and found restaurant and food outlet numbers are now 258% higher than in 1998 (8% annual average growth rate) with a total of 17,450 chain branches in operation across the country. This growth far outweighs that of other leisure outlets (such as bingo halls, cinemas and gyms) – which have grown by 90% since 1998, equivalent to a 4% annual average growth rate. And it is far above the increase in number of other retailers and shops, which are now 50% higher than in 1998 (3% annual average growth).

In contrast, the number of outlets in the services sector (estate agents, banks, building societies, etc) has fallen 36% since 1998 (-3% annual average growth)  as operators have moved their business activities online.

UK high street – retail chain branch growth by type (source: Retail Locations)

image001Seb Howard, head of Central London leisure at CBRE, said: “This study shows that the recession in tandem with the growth of online retailing hit parts of the UK high street hard, but the restaurant sector proved extremely resilient. In recent years, there has been extraordinary diversification in the restaurant sector driven by the demand for new types of cuisine and the changing eating patterns fuelled by the rise of street food vendors. These trends have injected vibrancy into the market and seen restaurateurs capitalise on the increased availability of premises and floor-space left by other shop operators closing their doors. This is why the sector is so important to the health of the UK high street, encouraging consumers back and increasing the time they spend close to other local retailers.”

Demand for global cuisine continues

The growth of restaurants specialising in relatively new types of food to the UK market has been particularly strong in recent years. The number of burrito bars and restaurants such as Barburrito and Chilango has grown at the fastest rate of any food type over the last few years with a 71% rise in branch numbers over the last 12 months and an average annual growth rate of 57% since 2009. Similarly, outlets specialising in mixed world cuisine, such as Giraffe, have seen growth of 41% over the last year and 40% annual average over the last five years. While new entrants in natural healthy food, like Leon, have seen rapid growth of 38% over the last year and 15% annual average growth since 2010.

More traditional restaurant offerings have seen far slower growth. For example, while Italian chain restaurants, such as Carluccio’s and Jamie’s Italian, are the largest in terms of the number of branches (817 across the UK), the average growth in numbers has been limited over the last five years at just 5%. Steak restaurants have also seen slow average annual growth over the last five years at just 1% while specialist fish restaurants have seen falls in branch numbers with average annual growth of -3% over the same period.

Street food influence

The rise in the popularity of street food and the quality of the catering that is on offer from street vendors has had a significant influence on the wider restaurant market. In separate figures from the National Caterers Association, the number of registered street food vendors operating in the UK has increased from 10 to over 1,000 in the last five years.

Nigel Costain, head of leisure – development and leasing at CBRE Retail, said: “Street food has had a massive impact on the wider market in recent years. The variety and quality of the food on offer has increased markedly and created an expectation among consumers that this quality and variety should be replicated in a restaurant environment. This has breathed new life into the industry and reflects the globalisation of the UK’s restaurant landscape.”

The news comes as CBRE launch the latest edition of its retail publication, IN_restaurants, an in depth look at the trends affecting the restaurant and catering market across the UK. The report was launched at a roundtable discussion at The Wolseley in central London on 27 April 2015. Attendees included retail and restaurant experts from CBRE as well as representatives from some of the leading restaurant groups and chains in the UK. Further details of the discussion and copies of IN_restaurants are available on request.