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Your Shout: Julian Mitchell, Christie & Co

28 July 2004
Your Shout: Julian Mitchell, Christie & Co

Ever-increasing rents on the high street are helping to drive smaller restaurant operators away from the edge of the main retail thoroughfares and into the leafy suburbs.

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And as they are pushed further out of town centres, the big-name chains are now fighting them for sites in tertiary locations. Some of the really prime sites in big cities such as London, Manchester and Birmingham, which once might have gone to fast-food operators, are reverting to multiple clothing retailers who are willing to pay the premiums such properties now attract. A typical example is a 4,000sq ft unit on the high street in one of west London's more upmarket "villages", currently in the hands of a big fast-food chain, where the annual rent looks about to rise almost 50% to £140,000. Today, only the large high-street multiples and the like are willing to pay such sums. About the only operators who seem able to stay in and around the edges of the prime central areas are the big coffee-shop chains. The good news for smaller restaurant operators is that by moving from the edge of the prime retail zone into tertiary sites they are getting closer to their customers. They - and their customers - also avoid any involvement with the late-night high-street scene, where fear, at least, of binge-drinking crowds of young people is keeping older customers away from town centres. As they move into the fringes, some restaurant operators, such as Loch Fyne and Blubeckers, are looking for the same kind of straightforward pub-to-restaurant conversions that, in the 1990s, companies such as McDonald's went in for. The bad news is that, as rents rise, they are now being followed into the fringe sites by the "corporates", fast-casual dining chains of the likes of Ask, Strada and Nando's, which are competing with them for premises.
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