Number of UK small pubs and bars rises for first time in over 15 years


The number of UK small pubs and bars – those with fewer than ten employees – has increased for the first time in more than 15 years, according to new data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and a report called Economies Of Ale: Changes In The UK Pubs And Bars Sector, 2001-2019. They increased by 85 (0.4%) to 22,925 in 2019, following more than 15 years of closures.

The report said, “The UK pubs and bars sector may be bouncing back after years of net closures. The sector has responded by diversifying its offer, evidently in the area of foodservice. This year’s data has shown a net increase in small pubs and bars for the first time in more than 15 years and the highest levels of real turnover since the end of the financial crisis of 2007 to 2008.”

But Frank Murphy, licensee at Glasgow’s Pot Still, said that the statistics might be explained in part due to a change in the business model. He said, “Think about it, retail is dying and pubs are finding it harder and harder to survive. That’s why I think that this could be even partly explained by a change in the business model, like the emergence of micro-pubs which require less of an outlay and might be run by people with a little less experience than other licensees. That said, I really don’t see a downside to this – it’s good news for the trade because it’s better to have a pub where there wouldn’t have been one otherwise. ”

The report also said that while the total number of pubs fell from 51,120 to 39,130 between 2007 and 2019, total employment grew from 426,000 to 457,000 during the same period. The growth in employment has been driven by customers eating, rather than drinking, with the share of pub employees working as bar staff falling from 37.6% in 2007 to 28.9% in 2019, while the percentage employed as kitchen and waiting staff increasing from 29.1% to 43.8%.

The ONS said there was a long-term trend towards people spending more of their household income on eating out and less on drinking out, despite a slight decline in spend on meals eaten out in the financial year 2017 to 2018, adding that this may not be indicative of a consistent trend.

As well as an increase in the number of pubs and bars in the UK, turnover in the sector increased £847m (3.8%) to £23.3bn in 2017, after inflation – equating to an average turnover per pub of £595,000.

Real turnover in the latest year of data is at its highest level since the financial crisis of 2007 to 2008 ended. Moreover, there were 7,000 more jobs in the sector in 2019 compared with 2018, an increase of 1.6%.

The latest research has been published on the back of findings revealed last year that the number of pubs in the UK increased in 2019 for the first time for a decade. The study found there was a net gain of 320 pubs in 2019 – up 0.8%.

Senior statistician Hugh Stickland said, “While smaller pubs have been struggling to survive in recent years, bigger pubs have been growing in number. This growth has been driven by food rather than drink and we’ve seen a big rise in the number of people employed as pub kitchen and waiting staff.

“The latest year, however, shows the first rise in total numbers since before the financial crisis, with growth in pubs of all sizes. We’ll have to wait to see if this marks a revival for smaller ‘locals’.”

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