The long-term clear out of unsustainable wet-let pubs and bars appears to be nearing its end – in part reflecting the recent success of compelling premium drinks offers and getting the balance right with food, the latest market snapshot from CGA and AlixPartners indicates.

The wine bar/café segment is performing particularly well, including many premium bar groups and independents and fast-growing all-day operators such as Loungers, says Market Growth Monitor, the quarterly review of pubs, bars and restaurants across Great Britain.

The review shows the rate of decline of wet-led venues has plummeted from 31 net closures a week three years ago to 13 a week in the 12 months to this March.

Graeme Smith, AlixPartners managing director, said the review identified “bright prospects” for many groups in the drink-led pub and bar space in particular. “Brands that can deliver a compelling premium drinks offer and strike the right balance with food have all to play for in 2019 and beyond,” he said.

Drink-led pubs and bars accounted for 31,670 premises this March, down 2.1% year on year – or 693 units. Food-led pubs were in growth three years ago but are now in decline – off 0.6% in the year to March – a fall of 114 venues.

The review said the slowdown in the closures of pubs and bars, especially drinks-led ones, was a significant and welcome trend. It highlighted the success of brands that had tapped into the premiumisation trend, serving consumers with a carefully curated range of upmarket and distinctive drinks, especially cocktails.

It said The Alchemist, Arc Inspirations and New World Trading Company with brands including Manahatta and The Botanist were part of this trend. It also cited the arrival of smaller but ambitious brands such as London Cocktail Club as part of the same movement. Many of these top brands also shared an ability to morph their offer to suit different times of day, it said, and offer an experiential aspect.

MCA’s Pub Market Report published last July, showed the pub sector was set to return to positive outlet growth within the next five years.

Peter Martin, vice-president of CGA, and MCA contributing editor was reluctant to predict a time when net pub closures would stop. He said: “It’s hard to say but what I can say is that the churn in the market looks like being with us long term.”

Large restaurant groups, meanwhile, have been having a hard time of it. The CGA/AlixPartners data shows closures of group restaurant sites in South of England, in particular, have hit high streets hard in the past year, down 2.8% compared with a 0.4% fall-off in the North.The report said this was a sign that restaurants had reached saturation in many southern towns and cities.

The number of restaurant sites overall fell 2.8% over the 12 months – equivalent to 768 net closures or about 16 a week – the fifth successive quarter of decline in the sector, which the report said brought to an end a boom period that saw restaurants grow by more than 15% between 2013 and 2018.

The bulk of closures were independents but group restaurants also fell in number, by 1.1%. Group restaurant numbers on high streets fell 2.4% over 12 months, compared with net openings of 1.8% in suburban areas.

Smaller brands, however, are getting a strong hold on the market place. Those with fewer than 25 sites have increased restaurant group market share 3% to 37% since 2014, while those with between 25 and 99 sites have increase share 4% to 21%. These contrast with large groups with 100-plus sites which have seen their share fall 6% to 43% over the same period.

The review said this highlighted the appeal of dynamic new entrants into the market and the growing dangers for bigger operators that may have become complacent or outdated in consumers’ eyes.

The decline of group restaurants in the past year has been most marked in the South of England, with their numbers down 2.8% – a net loss of 36 units, followed by London, which has seen numbers fall 1.3% – a net loss of 30 venues.

Scotland has powered ahead this past year – up 8% with a net increase of 371 premises. Central Wales and the North of England have both suffered declines in the past 12 months, reversing their longer-term trend of net growth since 2014.

Martin added: “CGA research has charted a remarkable surge in restaurants over the last decade – but our latest Market Growth Monitor makes it clear that the gold rush is over.”

Some distinctive and resolutely customer-focused restaurant groups continued to flourish, but there were undoubtedly more tough times ahead for brands that had over-reached themselves or lost sight of their proposition and purpose, he said.

Smith said that the next year to two years offered an opportunity for well-funded restaurant groups to expand into prime sites at much reduced costs.

“And if you can catch the right consumer wave, the returns are impressive.”