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The next big thing – the multi-site regional pub operator

Ever since the Romans first established the roadside “wine bar” in 43 AD, the pub has evolved, changed and adapted to its environment.

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It’s taken some knocks over the years, none more so than in recent decades with government intervention and legislation, but the pub is once again proving to be as resilient as ever, taking back its place as the number one hospitality venue.

Today we are seeing the pub rise again whilst other retailers on the high street face closures. High street pubs, bars and clubs keep the towns and cities vibrant. Further afield, in suburbs and villages, good, innovative and well presented pubs with a food offering are becoming the norm not the exception, giving consumers all the more reason take a trip out to the pub and avoid replicated rows of chain restaurants.

This comeback in the pub fortunes has been driven mainly by a new style of regional pub operators with fresh ideas, who have grown to become well established players in a resurgent market over recent years. At Christie & Co, we have helped many of these operators grow their estate one by one and now, hundreds of multi-site pub owners are thriving across the UK.

The regional pub operator’s success is becoming increasingly recognised, not just at events like the Publican Awards, where 11 of the top awards where won by 11 different operators, most of whom have less than 20 sites, but also by investors and the City. Private equity was a big driver behind the rapid rise and fall of branded high street dining over the last five years and despite taking a big hit, they are now taking stock and can see that the pub offers greater stability. Established pub operators are also having a look at what they can learn from their smaller cousins. 

The recent acquisition of Ribble Valley Inns by Brunning & Price, The Restaurant Group’s pub division, brokered through Christie & Co exemplifies the pub’s recent change in fortunes. The Restaurant Group, the UK’s largest restaurateur, focuses on the pub as its best growth market, which has proven to be a successful tactic.

Further evidence comes from the change in fortunes for tenanted pub estates with major UK and overseas investors acquiring the likes of Admiral Taverns, Hawthorn Leisure and the new look Punch Taverns.

We can expect this trend to continue over the next three years whilst the high street resolves major issues, such as high rents and oversupply. The opportunities exist for innovate multi-site operators to expand and fill the demand from consumers across all generations, from those seeking a non-branded experience in which to spend their leisure pound to those seeking a more ‘traditional’ experience.  

We will no doubt see growth across the regions, as regional group operators increasingly become national players, either through single site acquisition or swallowing up a near neighbour. Eventually, the big managed house players will seek to bring this talent into their own pub estates.

All in all, it’s good news for the UK pub industry as the pub remains the one place where the doors will always stay open.

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