The number of pubs is slowly on the rise, and it’s their food rather than drink that’s leading the way.

We’re on a new round in the pub and bar sector. Over the past decade the number of pubs had been dropping, however figures recently released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show a small rise in the number of pubs of all sizes in the last year. The rate of growth is small (0.8% between 2018 and 2019), however this modest improvement indicates a significant shift in the market.

Previously the ONS reported that decline in the sector was driven by small pubs closing, while the number of medium and large-sized pubs was actually growing. But, the recent study shows that, for the first time in 15 years, the number of small pubs has increased.

And, there are other reasons for spirits to lift. Employment levels are on the increase and latest data available shows turnover at its highest level since the financial crisis ended. So what’s leading to these improvements?

Well, ONS figures show that growth in employment has been driven by customers eating, rather than drinking. The share of pub employees working as bar staff decreased to 28.9% in 2019, while the percentage employed as kitchen and waiting staff increased to 43.8%. This is thought to be due to a change in consumer habits, with people now spending more on eating out and less on drinking out.

Many suggest that the key to sustaining growth also lies in the ‘customer experience’. Robert Rawlinson, CEO of live sport streaming service Screach, comments: “The challenge for the industry now is to show its relevance to a wide and diverse range of customer types, reminding them that pubs are about more than just drinking alcohol; they are also social places where they can meet their friends to enjoy the things that matter to them.”

Some are taking this ‘customer experience’ up a gear, with pubs even becoming refuelling stations for electric vehicles. Marston’s were first to announce installation of 400 charging points across 200 sites. Matt Preisinger, head of marketing for Brewhouse & Kitchen, agrees innovation
within the sector is fuelling a renaissance.

“The British relationship with the pub is one of this country’s great traditions, and it has been incredibly sad to see so many sites having to close their doors for the last time. Now however, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and the British pub is roaring yet again.” He added: “On-site brewing keeps flavours within pubs fresh and customers coming back for more. The rise of craft ale in particular is really appealing to those who seek innovative flavours, and the extraordinary rise in regional micro-breweries
is testament to this.”