I have an itch. Which needs to be scratched. So after more than six years, this is the last leader I will write as editor, so if you’ll excuse the indulgence, I thought I might reflect on a few things that have happened in the time that I have been privileged enough to work on M&C Report.    Looking back to the first issue of M&C that I got my hands on (August 2004), Greene King had just paid £684m for a slug of managed community pubs from Laurel on a punchy multiple well north of 10 times (I think it was actually around the 12 times mark), and the pub industry was digesting significant changes to the licensing regime that the Daily Mail told us would lead to 24-hour drinking.   The introduction of new laws saw an intense focus on alcohol as a social issue really start to escalate and the expression “binge drinking” entering the lexicon.   At the same time, the casual dining boom was in full swing with a plethora of “New Establishment” brands such as Carluccio’s, La Tasca, Loch Fyne and Strada, as well as the burgeoning coffee chains, expanding with velocity. Wagamama was pushing the 30-site mark in terms of its restaurant portfolio in 2004. This eating-out explosion revolutionised dining experiences on high streets across the UK.   The UK eating-out scene was second only to the States, and international expansion became part of the agenda for many groups.   Robert Tchenguiz was an emerging force, paying eye-watering prices for businesses. What did he know that we didn't?   Investor appetite for casual dining businesses was vast with a string of buy-outs for strong brands with good growth prospects, a process that peaked with the punchy 2007 sales of Las Iguanas, La Tasca and Loch Fyne.   Then of course events changed in the world of banking, culminating in the collapse of Lehman and the hereto free-flowing deals went with it, although there were honourable exceptions such as Pret A Manger and YO! Sushi.   It's been a challenging market since. From my own perspective, it has been a fascinating time to cover the sector – roughly three-and-a-half years of strong growth followed by a similar amount of time watching companies operate in a changed economic climate.   Debt has been a huge issue. The ills that inflicted the banks and housing markets also visited this sector, and as a consequence, another bit of jargon became familiar to us all – the pre-pack.   The pub industry has suffered with the harsh economic reality, exacerbated by the smoking ban, catalysing a process that has seen swathes of pubs close. But what has been remarkable has been the emergence of a growing band of what could be described as niche multi-site pub operators, epitomised by the MA250 index, ranging from two and three-pub enterprises to the likes of Geronimo Inns and Realpubs.   What has also been remarkable has been the relative resilience of eating out.   Many businesses – pub, restaurant and café groups – with good management teams, strong propositions and a clear and lucid understanding of who their customer is and why they exist, have continued to move forward.   As many observers predicted, it has been a Darwinian process, with the strong getting stronger. This will continue, with distress and distressed sales allowing well-placed companies to grow their businesses (witness Novus Leisure and Balls Brothers).   The intense competition and the development of social media has made the customer truly the king. Latterly, I have never seen such time and resource being devoted by companies to understanding customers, utilising social media to reach them, and to monitor the experiences they enjoy (or otherwise) at site level.   There is now a genuine push, supported by training, to make customer service a key weapon in the battle for punters.     There is clearly much more to talk about, but as an over-arching observation, I have always been struck by the energy, creativity and passion of the people involved in this business – from those at the front line with customers to those that have risen to the top of some of the sector’s biggest organisations. This business is truly a meritocracy and I love the fact that there are people who started as pot washers now running significant businesses.   It has been a privilege to be able to write about these people and these companies.   In terms of M&C, I will continue to contribute to the journal.   Paul Charity will become group editor of M&C and Morning Advertiser. Paul has done a tremendous job on the MA and I'm sure will quickly stamp his mark on M&C Report.    Reporting into Paul will be Mark Wingett and John Harrington, who will serve as associate editors of M&C Report. Mark and John know the sector well and are terrific news hounds so I know will do a fantastic job in keeping subscribers bang up to date.   The immediate contact for M&C Report will be Mark W on 01293 846553 or email mark.wingett@wrbm.com   As for me, I am moving to the “dark side” for a life in the world of communications and PR. I am starting a new company called Fleet Street Communications together with Francis Patton, a former customer services director at Punch Taverns, and Steve Dann, who built and ran Seal Communications before selling the business a few years ago.   If you would like to contact me my mobile will remain the same - 07974 303657.   And finally, just a word of thanks to the many people that have been generous to a fault with their time in helping us to put together M&C Report, and who have agreed to speak at one of our conferences. It is very much appreciated.   Let me take this opportunity to wish everyone the very best for the future - I hope to see many of you soon. I’ll be back to co-host M&C’s Retailers’ Retailer of the Year Awards on March 2 with Paul.