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F&B confidence ‘fragmented’ as bosses scale back on expansion

Confidence levels in the eating and drinking out industry are in the balance in early 2019 amid ongoing challenges and anxiety about Brexit, CGA’s 2019 Business Leaders’ Survey has revealed.

The poll, conducted in partnership with CPL Online, found 68% of leaders were ‘optimistic’ about prospects for their business over the next 12 months – five percentage points more than at November 2018. But the number of leaders who felt optimistic about prospects for the market in general is significantly lower at 39% – flat on November.

Differing confidence levels has resulted in leaders scaling back expansion plans as 24% are planning to open more than five new sites this year, less than half the 45% who intended to do so at the time of CGA’s 2016 survey.

The Business Leaders’ Survey identified a “notable contrast” in confidence between the pub and restaurant sides of the sector. Some 53% of leaders of drink-led operators felt ‘optimistic’ about the general market in 2019, compared to 33% of food-led business bosses.

Some 40% of all leaders said business had traded ahead of expectations in the last six months, which was 14 percentage points higher than last year’s survey. However, with CGA’s Coffer Peach Business Tracker indicating like for like sales growth of just 0.8% for managed pub and restaurant groups in 2018, analysts suggested this may be a reflection of leaders’ low expectations for the year rather than strong trading.

The Survey revealed that Brexit was causing “significant uncertainty”, especially due to the concern regarding the availability of back of house staff. When it came to delivery services incremental sales were cited as benefits while the potential negative effect on brand perception was named as a worry for businesses.

Healthy eating, sustainability, technology and the importance of the all-round experience were among the other big trends identified by leaders.

Phil Tate, group chief executive of CGA, said: “Our Business Leaders’ Survey reveals an industry caught between instinctive confidence for growth and caution about the challenges they face. It is encouraging to find that more than two thirds of leaders are optimistic about prospects for 2019 but concerning that far fewer feel upbeat about the market as a whole.

“We are also seeing a growing divide in confidence levels between pub operators, many of whom enjoyed a good 2018, and the restaurant sector, which endured a tough year.”

He added: “With so much talk of market saturation, indications that leaders are reining in their new openings should be little surprise. On top of that, Brexit is casting a long shadow over ambitions. But difficulties for some operators will always create opportunities for others, and leaders of well defined and customer-focused brands are going into 2019 with grounds for cautious optimism.”

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