What next for the retail and leisure market?
With the exception of churches, pubs are perhaps the oldest social institution in built form; on a par with the café culture of Paris or the souks of Marrakesh.
Yet legislation such as the 2007 smoking ban, competition from the falling price of alcohol in supermarkets and shifts in consumer behaviour appear to have conspired against pubs.
However, it is not only pubs that have felt the impact. Many high street restaurants and shops are also feeling squeezed and not just because of the economics. Changes in social and consumer behaviour have had a significant effect on both restaurants and shops on the high street.
The rise in online shopping has dramatically changed consumer habits and the frequency in which people visit shops and supermarkets. The ability to have groceries delivered has reduced the need, and often desire, for many to travel into the centre of town, which can also have a positive impact on overall household costs. Some find it more favourable to buy a bottle of wine and enjoy it at home, rather than walk to or travel to a pub, bar or restaurant.
It is also arguable that some retailers and restauranteurs are still yet to recover from 2008, continuing to offer 2 for 1 and discount meal deals. Additionally, many chains rely on international staff to work in their restaurants and with Brexit uncertainty, employing staff from overseas is becoming increasingly difficult.
With a number of chain restaurants shutting up shop, social changes are beginning to reveal the cracks in their business models, whilst the recent hike in business rates has exacerbated the issue for many.
That being said, some chain restaurants are thriving. This includes the likes of Nandos, whose format appeals strongly to the younger demographic. Restaurants such as Loungers and Bills are proving popular by offering a varying menu throughout the day from breakfast to dinner.
In Cambridge, many independent mid to high-end restaurants such as Chop House, Trinity, The Pint Shop and the recently opened Ivy appear to be booming in the current conditions, suggesting people are starting to value quality and service again.
Tourism is also helping to keep restaurants buoyant although, as we are starting to experience in Cambridge – especially over the summer months when there is a huge increase in the number of tourists that visit the city – many residents stay home.
During this season, the King’s Cross to Cambridge trainline becomes an experience that is not dissimilar to London’s tube, a mode of transport that most of us moved out of London to avoid!
Similarly, the number of people in the bars, restaurants and generally wandering around the city centre at least triples, which makes going for lunch and dinner more of a mission than a fun experience for most locals. This is great for central Cambridge although doesn’t necessarily help the pubs and restaurants on the periphery of the city that don’t attract this footfall.
Ultimately, we will have to watch and see. The retail and food and drink sectors will survive – it is just a case of them repositioning their offers and evolving with the times. But, times are changing and with the increased use of messaging apps and nights in, it seems that we might be starting to lose our sociability.