South East restaurant operators optimistic despite the ‘casual dining crunch’

Alliance of Independent Restaurants

Leading South East law firm Thomson Snell & Passmore recently surveyed clients operating in the UK restaurant sector to gauge the overall sentiment regarding the challenges being faced by the mid-tier dining industry, dubbed the ‘casual dining crunch’.

Respondents were composed of independent restaurant operators in the South East of England and London-based agents also took part in the survey. The overall feedback was positive with the majority of respondents adamant that there will be opportunities for their businesses. In response to the question: “Do you see opportunities for your business (and those of your clients) emerging from the ‘casual dining crunch’?”, over three-quarters of the respondents (83%) answered with an optimistic ‘yes’. Delivery services are being developed by independents and chains alike to respond to client demands.

The 18 survey respondents identified the causes of the ‘casual dining crunch’ as detailed below:

  • Over half of the respondents (67%) deemed this to be the result of oversaturation of the market;
  • 17% said that the ‘casual dining crunch’ is a result of consumers getting bored of big brands and wanting to support local/independent restaurants instead;
  • Only 5% of respondents feel that consumers want to try a ‘new’ experience; and
  • 11% believe that the current challenges being faced by the sector is a natural dip in the cycle.

Other findings in the survey included:

  • 64% of the 14 restaurant operator respondents identified both attracting/retaining staff and the cost of supplies as their most significant post-Brexit concern; 29% said it was solely the cost of supplies; and 7% highlighted no concerns post-Brexit; and
  • 71% of the respondents answered that they are dealing with the business rate increases by incurring the cost internally, whilst just over a quarter (29%) are passing the cost, or a portion of the cost, on to customers.

The UK restaurant sector is currently experiencing a period of change and adjustment. The industry is seeing the disappearance of existing brands who are struggling to meet rising costs, including staffing, however, this is balanced with the emergence of new brands and the growth of independent restaurants. Millennials who are a key demographic for eating out are more than ever before in tune with what they want and restaurant operators are responding. This is demonstrated by restaurants’ increasing engagement with social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram.

Mark Hillier, Director of real estate firm DMR Property, who participated in the survey, observed: “We are seeing a landslide adjustment in the UK restaurant sector.” He predicted that, “We will start to see more exciting new brands offering better quality and diversity entering into the market.

Alisa Sweeney, Commercial Property Partner at Thomson Snell & Passmore, who led the survey, commented:

The key takeaway from this survey is that despite the challenges and oversaturation in the UK restaurant sector, otherwise dubbed the ‘casual dining crunch’, local independent restaurants see room for revival and opportunities for their businesses.

The survey findings, especially the responses from the restaurant operators, are very positive and show that it’s not all doom and gloom. The shifting sector is paving the way for smaller independent restaurant operators to establish themselves in the marketplace.

There is an abundance of opportunities for independents and chains alike to reassess their concepts and strategies, and to develop and grow their businesses. From innovating delivery services to trialling new dishes, restaurants who are willing and ready to adapt to change can continue to attract new customers.”


For more information contact:

Clementine Hay, Byfield Consultancy, [email protected] or 020 7092 3991.

Charlotte Eberlein, Thomson Snell & Passmore, [email protected] or 01892 701301

Survey Respondents

  • The 18 survey respondents consisted of 13 based restaurant operators based in the South East of England, one restaurant chain operator and four London-based agents.
  • The turnover of the restaurant operator respondents:
    • 92% have a turnover of over £100,000;
    • 8% fall within the £50,000 to £100,000 turnover bracket; and
    • One respondent opted not to disclose this information.

Thomson Snell & Passmore LLP

  • Thomson Snell & Passmore LLP is one of the largest firms in the South East outside London with over 240 people including over 130 lawyers advising private individuals, directors, PLCs, subsidiaries of overseas companies, SMEs, owner managed businesses, local authorities and charities.
  • We are ranked by the leading independent guides to UK law firms in 29 specialist practice areas and are proud to have in our teams 26 lawyers recognised as “leaders in their field”.
  • With offices in Tunbridge Wells and Thames Gateway the firm has earned a reputation over generations for continuously aligning itself with clients’ ever changing needs, providing intelligent and practical legal advice and delivering exceptional client service.
  • The commercial group provides advice on mergers and acquisitions, commercial contracts, employment law, dispute resolution and to those involved in land acquisition, development, planning and construction.
  • The firm’s private client group is one of the largest in the South East offering leading expertise in property, family, tax planning, trust management, probate, clinical negligence and personal injury and Court of Protection.