Tougher competition follows economic slump: Wine bars suffer as pubs refine image

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WINE BARS may be heading for the rocks. A Mintel survey says the bars have been hard hit by the recession, high interest rates and inflation.

The worst victims have been those which offered over- priced wine or lacklustre food. Many have had to cut prices or improve quality. The UK has about 1,150 wine bars which will turn over pounds 405m this year.

Customers have been defecting to pubs which have become more comfortable and have improved their food to counter falling beer sales.

Of the 1,040 adults surveyed in March, 30 per cent, asked why they did not visit wine bars at all or more often, said they 'preferred pubs'; 21 per cent said there were no good wine bars locally; 19 per cent felt they were too expensive; and 13 per cent said they were 'for young people'. Pubs are also offering better wine and premises which are less intimidating to women.

The larger London-based wine bar chains blame the tightening of employers' policy on lunchtime drinking as another reason for the decline in adults visiting wine bars, down 1.6 per cent since 1989 to 20.9 per cent of adults a year now.

'The affluent 1980s have been replaced by a more prudent approach in the 1990s and many large City institutions have banned (or attempted to do so) their employees from drinking alcohol at lunchtimes,' the survey says.

However, food sales have grown in consequence and there has been an increase in alcohol sales after work.

Wine bars still have one advantage: their popularity with single people. They are four times more likely to visit a wine bar more than once a week than married drinkers.