Rise of the indie bar dominates leisure market

The hum of quiz machines and alluring scent of liquor filled Manchester Central yesterday as day one of the Northern Restaurant & Bar exhibition began, writes Laura Storey. As the dry ice from cocktail mixers faded, one thing was clear, craft beer was everywhere this year, with a defined craft beer quarter providing free samples to everyone from hipsters to adventurous business men.

Over the buzz of promoters, Lisa Garside, regional account manager of Elta Partnerships, a specialist pub accounting firm, discussed the changing hospitality industry, commenting that consumers were no longer satisfied with the average ale. Instead, consumers were hunting for microbrewers and independent pubs which can offer something different from the norm. Garside said this change was due to people going out less but spending more, and therefore expecting higher quality products.

This sentiment was echoed by Olly Foster, Northern sales manager at Cask Liquid Marketing, who said consumer awareness was growing and this was driving the growing diversity of places to drink.

NRB 2017 General View

A study conducted on behalf of the Northern Restaurant & Bar exhibition by CGA Strategy showed a 3.1% increase in the number of independent restaurants in Manchester over the last three years. However, this recorded increase does not reflect the wider picture, according to Thom Hetherington, chief executive of NRB organiser Holden Media, who explained “many actual ‘indies’ epitomised by the likes of Black Dog, Almost Famous and Salvi’s have done so well in Manchester that they now have a handful of sites, meaning they fell outside the definition within the survey – they were single site start-ups five to 10 years ago, but now have three to five sites or more.”

The North of England’s hospitality power list which was announced at the exhibition yesterday also included several people from independent companies, including the owners of Graffiti Spirit, an independently owned cocktail and restaurant company in Liverpool. Hetherington said the list showed “that the region’s ambitious, independent operators are thriving despite increasing competition, and it is the people who make up the NRB Top Fifty who are driving this dynamic.”

Hetherington continued: “London still stands apart in terms of the scale and depth of its restaurant scene, but escalating costs mean the regions, and places like Manchester in particular now offer genuine opportunity for ambitious operators.” This was echoed by a number of suppliers at the exhibition, including Tom Dyer, director of ODK mixers, who pointed to Manchester as the cheaper alternative to London. Gary Usher, chef-patron of Hispi in South Manchester also stated: “I couldn’t have opened restaurants in London as I have in the North of England. The economics and audiences are different, and that gave me the opportunity.”

The growth of the hospitality industry in the suburbs was also a hot topic at the exhibition with less expensive rents and an increasing consumer base seen as attractive. Hetherington said:Brilliant independent operators such as Rudys, Pollen and Caffe Lupo are taking off-piste sites on the edges of the traditional city centre; entrepreneurial operators including the likes of Hispi, Levanter and Sugo are choosing to set up in the suburbs where the financials are easier.”

Olly Foster from Cask Liquid Marketing also described business expanding into the suburbs, anticipating the completion of the new Trafford Metrolink tram line as an opportunity to further this growth.

The Northern Restaurant & Bar exhibition continues today at Manchester Central.

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