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UK pub and bar numbers grow for first time in a decade

The number of pubs and bars in the UK grew by 315 to 39,130 in 2019 – the first increase in a decade.

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UK consumers are spending less on drinking and more on eating out

According to the Office for National Statistic’s (ONS) Economies of ale: changes in the UK pubs and bars sector, 2001 to 2019 report, the number of small pubs and bars – venues with fewer than 10 employees – in the UK increased for the first time in more than 15 years. In 2019, the number of small pubs and bars increased by 85 to 22,925.

The report also showed that pubs and bars now employ more people to serve food than work behind the bar.

In 2003, bar staff made up around four in 10 employees and those serving food, such as chefs, cooks, waiting staff, kitchen and catering staff, made up about three in 10 workers.

However, the ONS said that since 2016, the opposite has been true, with those serving food outnumbering those working behind the bar.

The share of pub employees working as bar staff fell from 37.6% in 2007 to 28.9% in 2019, while the number of people employed as kitchen and waiting staff increased from 29.1% to 43.8% over the same period.

The ONS said this could be due to “changing consumer habits”, signalling a “long-term trend towards people spending more of their household income on eating out and less on drinking out”.

“We are monitoring the slight decline in spend on meals eaten out in the financial year 2017 to 2018, as this may not be indicative of a consistent trend,” the ONS warned.

Food drives growth

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’.”

The report also noted that turnover in the pub and bar sector increased 3.8% to £847m (US$1.1 billion) in 2017, after inflation is considered.

The ONS said that “turnover in the latest year of data is at its highest level since the financial crisis of 2007-2008 ended”.

Furthermore, there were 7,000 more jobs in the industry in 2019 compared with 2018 – an increase of 1.6%.

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