Cities in the North, such as Newcastle and Leeds, are leading the way in the independent restaurant boom, with growth rates far outstripping traditional hotspots such as London and Edinburgh.
That is according to research commissioned by hospitality trade show Northern Restaurant & Bar (NRB), which has 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 research, produced in partnership with hospitality data company CGA, showed Leeds and Newcastle leading the way with a 12.8% increase in the number of independent restaurants.
Leeds in particular has actively nurtured its start-up restaurant scene with the Independent Food and Drink Academy and the Leeds Indie Food festival.
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 the survey, smaller northern cities also performed well, with Sunderland and Hull topping the overall national charts with growth rates of 23.4% and 17.2%, respectively.
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.
Thom Hetherington, chief executive 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.
“London still stands apart in terms of the scale and depth of its restaurant scene, but escalating costs mean the regions and the North in particular now offer genuine opportunity for ambitious operators.”
Matt Dix, director of the Leeds Indie Food festival, said: “We’re seeing diverse and unique new openings all the time, and we get a real buzz from being able to show off new independent talent.”
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.”
Jamie Campbell, director of CGA Peach, added: “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.”
Videos from The Caterer archives