Casual Dining in the UK

Casual Dining In The UK
Changing Consumer Behaviour

11 July 2016, by Tim Whittington

Millennials and families are leading the way


The culture of casual dining, in the UK at least, has been long embedded in Central London on the back of both a constant stream of affluent white-collar workers aged 25-34 with few family commitments, and a thriving tourism economy. Outside of the capital shopping centres and leisure developments have been the primary access that diners have had to these brands. In both cases, dining would often only form part of the overall evening’s entertainment, either being tied with a visit to the cinema, or other drinking establishments.

Post-recession however, has seen the UK consumer rethink how they want to use their leisure time. In retail, while many shoppers held back on all but the most basic purchases, one of the areas to recover most quickly was with indulgent purchases. Restaurants struggled for several years to draw diners and there was a brief time when the meal voucher was the difference between drawing custom and having an empty restaurant, but as the economy has improved the nice-to-have meal-out has become integral to our social time.

The UK demand for dining is catching up with London, first with the major city centres and affluent market towns, but gradually we would expect over the course of the next decade many casual dining brands to find success in smaller and more secondary locations. Much in the way that the coffee revolution has become imbedded in the fabric of UK society, we foresee casual dining to be much more prevalent a dining format across the country.

Casual dining has reached a point where it is both influencing and being influenced by a change in consumer trends that impacts on a wide range of demographic groups. However, certain groups are leading the way, or have the potential to result in significant growth if their spend can be captured. The two main groups on the radar are Millennials and Families.

In 2015, 60% of people aged 18-24 ate out at least weekly; 5% more than 25-34s, twice the frequency of people over-60, and ahead of the GB average (44%). So while restaurant visitation is up for all demographic groups, younger diners, with lower financial commitments and more free time are helping to drive market growth. Millennials are particularly adventurous, dynamic, social and tech-savvy. They are a key group to target, but as they also lack brand loyalty building a solid network of repeat customers is challenging. These diners are very trend focussed, like to try new places and have wide culinary tastes.

Casual diners, in particular those under the age of 34, are particularly quick in becoming aware of new restaurant brands and are keen to share their experiences with their peers, usually via social media. This makes them very valuable customers for brands to attract and is causing operators to be more innovative in how they reach and interact with them.

Millennials might lead the way with some brands, but having family appeal and attracting the UK’s largest consumer group, is a key influencer. Pre-Millennium, parents would have been less likely to regularly visit restaurants with their children, instead using takeaways and quick service restaurants that were more convenient and less costly. Casual dining brands have an improved proposition for families, with less formal environments, kids’ activities and menus, quicker service and an affordable offer.

As the market has grown, more families are being drawn to the sector and there has become an increased expectation for experience, value, quality and adventure in order to differentiate the brand. Families in particular seek consistency of service and offer and unlike Millennials, are far more brand loyal. In delivering these requirements, casual dining has in effect made it more attractive and affordable for families to dine out.

However, there is another as yet untapped consumer group that may provide further opportunity for casual dining brands. The government social trends survey shows that 72% of 45-64s eat out; the highest share of any age bracket, but one that is skewed towards pubs and traditional restaurants. Given a below average propensity for this group to eat in casual dining restaurants this is an area with huge potential. This trend is likely to be in part due to the nature of the locations casual dining brands have focussed their offer in to date, such as cinema anchored leisure schemes and city centres. As casual dining increasingly opens in smaller, predominantly affluent locations this will prove a good demographic group to target.


% Awareness of brand | Millennials are quick on the uptake of brands, with high awareness of new concepts that is possibly influenced by social media

Figure 2

Source: CGP Peach Brand Track



Key Contacts

Tom Whittington

Tom Whittington

Retail Research


+44 (0) 161 244 7779


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