The UK’s branded restaurant market is forecast to grow by 22% to £13.6bn in the next three years as eating out becomes increasingly ingrained in consumer behaviour, according to Allegra’s Project Restaurant 2012 report, published in association with Barclays. The report, which surveyed over 12,000 consumers about their eating-out habits and close to 300 industry leaders about their expectations for the industry, forecasts the sector will grow by 5.6% this year to a total of £11.1bn, as a growing number of consumers expect discounts. Fast food operators, including health conscious outlets, will lead growth in the industry, outperforming the sector as a whole with growth of 6.7% this year. The report found that 17% of consumers would stop going to a restaurant regularly if discounting ceased to be offered there. More than half (54%) said they regularly used discount vouchers, a third of who used them “most of the time”.  In return, 45% of operators expect discounting to become more widespread in the future. Almost half of those businesses using such initiatives have reported a rise of up to 5% in sales, which are directly attributable to these offers. A further 51% believe that footfall would decrease should they remove these offers. The research also found that half of all consumers surveyed claim that they eat out with the same frequency as they did a year ago, and an additional 13% state that they eat out more often. More than a quarter of respondents, however, said they were trading down, visiting lower priced restaurants to save money. In the next 12 months, 70% of consumers surveyed expect to eat out at the same rate as they have done in the past year. Italian remains the nation’s favourite eating out cuisine, as stated by 40% of consumers, and Indian cuisine comes second with 30%, while the average spend per person in branded restaurant chains is £12.98 for lunch and £20.13 for dinner. The study showed that men were more likely to spend more than women, and the over-60s were the highest spending group. Mike Saul, head of Hospitality & Leisure at Barclays, said: “Eating out has become part and parcel of many consumers’ lives, and is no longer a rare treat.  But as discretionary spend continues to come under pressure, consumers are taking active steps to switch their spending towards more affordable restaurants. As a result there has been a clear shift by operators to meet these price sensitive needs. “As we look ahead, operators will be faced with a juggling act to manage both consumer price expectations whilst building long term loyalty. We are already seeing exciting innovations to this end and a continued focus on the quality of experience will ensure the sector’s projected growth remains on trend.” Anya Marco, director of Insight, Allegra Strategies, said: “Although industry sentiment is guarded, understandably dampened by a cautious economic outlook, it is clear that UK consumers are refusing to give up on affordable eating out. The report shows that visit frequency is expected to remain stable and regardless of prevailing economic conditions, people are determined to continue to enjoy themselves when they can. “Successful operators in the branded restaurant market recognise the pressures on household budgets. By focusing on more innovative ways to deliver value for money, it is these operators who are benefiting most from the continued propensity to habitually eat out and spend on experiences that cannot be easily replicated at home. “Branded restaurants are out-performing both the wider hospitality market and the overall retail sector. The strength of a brand should not be underestimated in the restaurant market. With established marketing prowess, delivery of consistency and familiarity, and the ability to capitalise on new outlet expansion opportunities, branded chains will continue to drive growth in the market.”