While branded food pubs have seen a decline, “the future of the pub is genuinely bright” as food-led pubs increased in numbers during 2017, Phil Tate, group chief executive, CGA, told MCA.

Following the publication of the quarterly Market Growth Monitor from CGA and AlixPartners, Tate said the 7.6% decline in the number of branded food pubs, in 2017 vs. 2016 – since 2012, numbers are actually up 25.8% – is down to a proportion of them having moved into the unbranded pubs category.

Food-led pubs have seen numbers increase by 1.8% since 2016, to 7,714, with a 4.1% decline since 2012. The date showed there has been growth particularly on the managed side with numbers up by 15.9% to 1,222.

“It is important to remember that the pubs that are coming into the market are often bigger than those that have exited, meaning they can service more customers,” said Tate. “We are also seeing the return of the drinks-led occasion which has to be good news for pubs. This is born out of our Trading Index data (EPOS data from 5k managed pubs) where we can see year-on-year drinks volumes up by 1.6%.

“The future however is not about food or wet-led pubs, it is about outlets that combine different elements of their offer together to create the experience the consumer is demanding which will drive the footfall,” he added.

The latest report, which showed a nationwide drop of 0.3% in licensed premises – to 122,221 licensed premises at December 2017 – also highlighted the contrasting pictures between inner and outer London. The capital showed a 0.6% rise in licensed premises over the past 12 months in inner London, compared with a 1.9% drop in outer London.

Tate said the growth in London was being driven by innovation. “Openings are being driven by new restaurants, bars and experiential concepts,” he said. “Modern operators know they need to be offering their customer an experience – something that creates that ‘fear of missing out’ feeling, with Instagrammable moments they can share with their friends. These are outlets we have seen come into the market over the last 12 months in central London.”

Meanwhile the decline seen in suburban and rural licensed premises has seen a continued shake-out in the wet-led market, with a decline in numbers of community pubs and sports and social clubs.

Commenting on the 0.6% growth seen in the total number of licensed premises on high streets in 2017, compared to a 0.8% in the suburbs, he said that despite the beginning of a slowdown of growth on the high street, the majority of openings still congregate there, “typically being driven by a strong entrepreneurial spirit as smaller operators and independents continue to drive the majority of this growth”.

“The latest numbers still show food venues growing year-on-year, and only a slight decline for drinks venues, however this is expected to slow on the high street across 2018,” he added.

Tate said a lot of the growth of licensed premises on the high street was being driven by restaurant operators with less than 100 sites, as opposed to pubs, “however we are equally seeing bars taking space and really specialising in a particular offers be it cocktails or certain drinks categories”.