Pubs are being put under pressure during the lunch occasion, as food-to-go retailers steal a march on share of visits, according to the MCA Pub Market Report 2019.

As consumers are increasing drawn to more convenient, cheaper and healthier options, sandwich retailers, coffee shops and supermarkets are becoming more popular at lunchtime.

The report suggests that a focus on improving speed of service and dwell time initiatives could help pubs win back lunch visits from their competitors.

However, despite declining visit frequency over the past four years – which slowed from -5.4% in the year to March 2017, to -3.6% this year – pubs remained the most popular eating out channel across the lunch and dinner occasions, with one in five occurring at a pub restaurant.

Pubs have also increased their day part share at breakfast, from 13.6% to 16.8% over the past three years to March 2019.

The proportion of under 35s, female visitors to pub restaurants and an increasing share of visits from more affluent consumers have helped to expand customer demographics.

Offering more novel experiences, activities and free wifi, as well as improving food quality and service, are key to attracting younger consumers to pubs, according to the report. In order to further increase pubs’ attraction to female customers, a focus on the introduction of healthier menu options, including low- and no alcohol drinks is important, it said.

Looking at the availability of premium options, over two-thirds of men order a premium drink at least occasionally, much higher than the share for women, primarily due to the popularity of craft beer.

“Consumers primarily choose these drinks as a treat and because they prefer the taste,” noted the report. “Under 35s are very positive about buy more premium drinks in the future, while over 50s overall say they will buy them less often, so premium drink offerings should be targeted toward appealing to these younger consumers.”