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Food: Pubs and restaurants break records for Christmas lunch

More people than ever this Christmas chose to desert the kitchen for the local pub or eatery. Anywhere from Harvester restaurants to local boozers were crammed full of customers for Christmas lunch this year. One Beefeater restaurant, the Rusty Cutter in Bedhampton, was even booked out for the meal by last April.

And it is not just Christmas - Britons are choosing to eat out in their droves on any special occasion. Pubs and restaurants are already reporting record bookings for Valentine's Day and Mothering Sunday.

"These are the best bookings we have ever seen for Christmas Day. Most people ordered the traditional lunch but there were plenty of alternative and vegetarian meals were also popular," said a spokesman for Bass Taverns, one of the biggest pub groups in the country. The story has been mirrored across the whole industry.

As working hours increase, more people have not got the time or are not prepared to spend hours in the kitchen. A recent survey found that it takes an average of five and a half hours to prepare a Sunday lunch. Pub operators also believe the rise in the divorce rate, which has lead to an increase in the number of single parents, leads people to turn to pubs and restaurants as an alternative to eating a home.

These trends mean that the eating-out market is expected to show double- digit growth over the next few years. they have also lead to the transformation of the traditional pub. Gone are the soggy fish and chips and the stale pie. Most of the major chains have spruced up their menus and introduced a wider, more exotic range of food to cash in on the growing demand.

- Andrew Yates