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The London Restaurant and Casual Dining Market

London Licensing Partners Clare Eames and Lisa Inzani take a look at the London Restaurant and Casual Dining Market; Trailblazers, Trends and Licensing Landscape

There is no doubt that London leads the way in hosting the more innovative and experimental dining concepts, with the capital attracting a large proportion of private equity funded ventures and being viewed as the hottest ‘concept’ scene in the world.

A consequence of this trend is that demand outstrips supply in Central London and as such this has had an impact on the licensing landscape with a significant increase in the number of licences and variations being sought. Rents are in many people’s opinion sky high, let alone what landlords are charging by way of premium.

On top of that, many view London and in particular, Westminster, as an area with huge licensing constraints.

A bullish and resilient market

Daniel Mackernan, a director at leading property agent, Savills, describes the market as “bullish” and “resilient” commenting: “The thirst for new sites has seen some players come to the fore. Leading restaurant and casual dining players in the field who are trading well are bullish in their quest for prime space in both Central London and further field. Rents have risen considerably over the past five years, but then so too has turnover with most operators reporting continuous like for like sales as a result of spending in leisure which has been resilient throughout the recession.”

Whilst rents are indeed high and premiums larger than in every other area in the UK, partners at Poppleston Allen Clare Eames and Lisa Inzani explain the impact on the licensing landscape.

From a licensing perspective the Central London Licensing Authorities are now seen to be questioning restaurant applications when in the recent past these applications were welcomed and granted without too much fuss.

Residents have become more vocal about the number of licensed premises, including restaurants, and are pushing to include quiet commercial areas within the confines of Cumulative Impact Policy (CIP) areas. Even though it is more difficult in Central London to obtain a new licence, for the restaurant entrepreneurs the door is still open.

Where there is a will

Whilst working with Caprice Holdings, Clare Eames secured a new licence in Covent Garden at the Ivy Market Grill with hours granted outside the “core” hours for Westminster and also secured flexible operating conditions with a 2am licence for Sexyfish in Berkeley Square. So all is not lost – where there is a will, a common sense based case and a good operator with the right advisors and licensing strategy, there is often a way.

An example of other problems arising outside the CIP are demonstrated by the new licence Lisa Inzani obtained for a former betting shop in Baker Street for the Bills Restaurant group with many residents objecting, who were concerned at the potential noise and nuisance impact to them as residents above the premises.

It is certainly not easy to obtain a new licence in London. However, the two key elements are a good operator and a continual dialogue with Responsible Authorities and neighbours to ensure that there is a good working relationship between the commercial and residential elements to the area.

The restaurant and casual dining market in London is as buoyant as ever, with little evidence of it slowing down. What is clear though is that there are a few prime sites and these are being snatched up immediately by operators who are providing fine dining or those who have a unique food concept to bring to the market.

Trail blazers of the restaurant and casual dining market who are already operating outside London are setting their sights on other major cities in the UK where there is a need for good food and drink with the right ambience.

The licensing landscape outside of London is more variable with a more flexible framework in place. London is the starting point and roll out continues across the country. This is good news for everyone involved in the restaurant and casual dining market, long may it continue.

Contact the authors

Clare Eames and Lisa Inzani are Partners in the London office of Poppleston Allen. They can be contacted on 0203 3078 7485

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