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It is easy to get bogged down by negativity when it comes to the recent history of the UK food and beverage sector. Only recently PWC sent a warning on Pizza Hut which should come as a surprise to few when you consider the challenges the sector has faced have been many, including Brexit-induced labour and goods shortages, rising interest rates, an ongoing cost-of-living crisis, soaring energy prices and increasing food inflation. Many commentators might have us believe there is no end in sight.

Well, I’ve had enough of it. It will serve us all well to remember the silver-linings in play.

While a vast number of restaurants have closed over the past three years, it is worth noting that a large proportion of these closures were casual dining chains. Those within the hospitality sector would undoubtedly agree that these brands had overexpanded in the first place, leaning on old formats in a sector that thrives on the new. Company restructures have made way for entrepreneurs to emerge, or fresher concepts to take advantage. Already we are seeing the likes of Gaucho, Honest Burger and Flat Iron expanding their historically London-centric portfolios into Cardiff, Leeds, and Cambridge respectively.

Finding and retaining staff is, without question, an ongoing challenge. However, the closure of stagnating venues has allowed staff from dwindling brands to be snapped up by newcomers. More importantly, it is driving innovation in staff nurturing. Forward-thinking brands like Pizza Pilgrims are focusing on improved training at their ‘Pizza Academy’, building a family culture and encouraging loyalty. Staff turnover rates in hospitality need to come down if we are going to see the next generation of Fred Sirieix or Gordon Ramsay coming through. Too long has the UK F&B sector benefitted from cheap labour, causing people to view working in hospitality as a ‘stop-gap’ whilst they find a more secure job. There is a fulfilling career to be had in hospitality, working your way up from a pot-washer all the way to CEO.

Food inflation and menu prices are at an all-time high. Whilst we cannot ignore the effect this has on the average consumer, it does spur operators to be creative. Already pioneering brands are revisiting where they source their produce and are changing their menus to serve local and in-season food. There are knock-on sustainability benefits which could occur, and the reduced transport and farming costs may trickle down to the consumer.

Finally, whilst there is less money overall in everyone’s pockets, based on the number of companies reporting record sales, it has not stopped people eating out – it has merely been a driver for quality or value. People still want to go for dinner, but they will not settle for a sub-par experience. This is another reason that staid casual dining brands have suffered and why operators with a slightly higher price point, which provide a feast for the eyes within a beautiful venue, have flourished. It also demonstrates why the quick-service restaurant (QSR) industry has blown up in recent times with substantial newcomer successes from the likes of Wingstop, Popeyes and Marugame Udon. Consumers want consistency and value – something you can almost guarantee at these restaurants.

Still not convinced? If you think the newcomers’ ventures are misinformed, look instead to the established industry sages. Alan Yau (Founder of concepts such as Wagamama, Park Chinois and Yauatcha) and Jeremy King (formerly of Corbyn & King) are both making returns to the sector. Michelin-starred chef, Tomos Parry, of Super 8 Restaurants is bringing another venture to Soho. JKS have just opened an Arcade Food Hall within the Battersea Power Station. White Rabbit Fund is delivering Lina Stores to Clapham. MJMK (owner of Kol and Casa Do Frango) continues to explore new opportunities which I can’t divulge at this time… I could go on about the vast array of quality operators all resolute on opening new venues, and I haven’t even touched upon the expanding world of competitive socialising and immersive experiences scooping up larger retail spaces.

Absolutely these are challenging times, however, they are exciting too. The Food & Beverage sector – as it always has done – continues to evolve in ways we might not have imagined even five years ago. This creativity and innovation is its enduring strength and the reason to be positive about the future, but also about the present.

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