Britain's dining out: 'friendly' pubs spur £28bn meal ticket

Record spending levels as restaurants and bars adapt to changing climate
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The British public is set to rack up a record £28bn eating out this year, as demand for pub grub soars.

The figure, revealed in a study carried out by Mintel and released by soft drinks group Britvic, will represent a £2bn jump on the previous year and a 25 per cent hike since 2000.

The research also found that pubs were the most popular places to eat, accounting for £6.4bn of the total - a 30 per cent rise on 2004. "Pubs have become more family-friendly and are offering a wider selection of healthier food and soft drinks, making them more appealing for people who don't want to drink alcohol," said Chris Haskins an executive at Britvic.

He added that measures combating anti-social behaviour, such as restricting alcohol promotions, were helping to boost the popularity of pubs as places to eat.

In total, the restaurant sector is set to be worth £18.2bn this year, with fast food outlets accounting for £7.4bn and other sectors, worth around £2bn, making up the rest. "It's definitely something of a record," said Lisa Hogg, a marketing executive at Britvic.

Ms Hogg also argued that the trend was likely to continue, so 2006 would be an even bigger year.

"It's about lifestyle. People don't have the time [to cook]; it's not just to do with disposable income. And if our lifestyles continue in this way, I don't see why this won't continue."

Nigel Popham, a leisure analyst at broker Teather & Greenwood, said the trend for eating out had been boosted by demographic changes, such as "the growing prosperity and number of retired or older people", as well the overall strength of the economy and improved offerings from pubs and restaurants.

He added: "Unless the economic environment deteriorates markedly, we believe that demographic and lifestyle changes will continue to override a dull climate for consumer expenditure. Over the longer term, the proportion of food consumed outside the home will move much closer to the US level of 50 per cent, which will provide significant benefits to the profitability of the leading groups."

Teather & Greenwood cited The Restaurant Group, owner of the Chiquito chain, and pubs group Mitchells & Butlers as those most likely to gain.

Food in pubs has been in the news recently as the Government reviews smoking in public places. One proposal is that restricted smoking areas be allowed in pubs where food is not served, but banned outright in outlets that do sell meals. However, the pubs industry is becoming more convinced that the Government will opt for a total ban.