Casual dining operators looking to develop new eating out brands are beginning to colonise areas of the eating out market previously dominated by independents.
That is the main finding of the biannual Ones to Watch survey from foodservice analyst Horizons.
While Horizons found Bill's to be the country's fastest-growing restaurant brand, the fastest growing areas of the branded eating out sector include Chinese, Mexican, Caribbean, and Mediterranean restaurants. These site alongside American dining, healthy eating outlets, coffee shops and sandwich bars.
"Fledgling brands serving Thai, Caribbean and Mediterranean cuisine, traditionally the domain of the independents, are taking their cues from successful street food vendors. They are offering freshly cooked, authentic cuisines in an affordable, casual dining setting. If they have the financial controls in place and find suitable sites they are on target for a successful rollout and could be our high street brands of the future," said Horizons' director of services Nicola Knight, author of Ones To Watch.
Stand-alone independents and small regional chains of Thai restaurants have been popular with UK consumers but only recently have any brands emerged as potential national chains, Horizons said.
The Giggling Squid chain of Thai restaurants, with recent openings in Reigate and Marlow, has plans to expand to 80 sites in seven years, while Koh Thai Tapas has tapped into the trend for smaller plates by offering a version of Thai tapas in contemporary surroundings. And the Chaophraya chain has six restaurants between Birmingham and Glasgow and is planning to launch a new brand called Thai Pad early next year.
A number of smaller 'Bubbling Under' Thai chains (Rosa's, The Thai and Busaba Eathai's sister brand, Naamyaa) are also expanding and may well be future contenders for the first national Thai chain, according to Horizons.
Meanwhile, fastest-growing brand Bill's, has increased the size of its estate more than five-fold since 2010. It is also the brand with most new openings since 2010 (21 in all), sharing the top spot with Tesco-backed coffee shop chain Harris + Hoole.
Bill's opened its 25th site in October and has five more in the pipeline (Leamington Spa, Hammersmith and Salisbury are due to open before Christmas). The company is preparing to push north to locations such as Manchester as it aims to reach 50 outlets and also offers food and drink hampers to order online.
Mezzé, second on the fastest growth list, now has six outlets and plans to open 10 more as it expands from its Bristol base into the West Country. All sites are converted pubs, branded 'Mezzé at …' with food accounting for over 70% of sales. I
"Ones To Watch provides an important litmus test on the eating out sector," Nicola Knight said. "While some of these fledgling brands may not survive many more will go on to expand and become recognised names on the high street. The Ones To Watch service demonstrates that the eating out market is still a dynamic one in terms of new openings, new concepts and plans for expansion."