Analyses of spend on food in pubs for last year by researcher NPD Group showed an overall decline of 0.2% in pub visits, according to its Pub Tracker report.
The dip was caused by a “significant decrease” of 13.8% in the number of visits to independent venues in contrast with rising footfall to small and large branded outlets, said the report.
Trips to the pub dropped by 0.5% during the week, while weekend visits rose by 0.2% for the year.
More people (36.2%) visited the pub for dinner, accounting for more than 44% of sales in the sector. However, breakfast visits accounted for just 12.5%, generating 8.8% of total sales, it showed.
Lunchtime visits a large driver
Lunchtime visits were the second largest driver of footfall, accounting for 35.1% of bums on seats and generating 36.3% of sales.
Yet, the higher earning segment of society, representing roughly more than half of the population and known as the ABC1 socioeconomic group, increased their visits to independent pubs by 2.6 percentage points.
This is in contrast with ABC1s’ 0.8 percentage point decline in branded or managed visits, despite accounting for 60.6% of overall branded pub traffic.
A potential cause for the overall rise in branded pub footfall could be down to an increase in the number of families using the venues, which was up by 5.2%, accounting for 35.6% of all pub meal occasions in 2018.
The research follows targets set by several of the major pubcos to increase the number of managed sites, such as Ei Group, whose chief executive Simon Townsend recently outlined plans to open 500 managed sites by 2020.
Café and bar operator Loungers also signalled a desire to operate 500 sites in the coming years, with plans to bolster its open rate to 25 venues a year.
However, managed operations could be seen by some as the medicine to further slow or halt the number of weekly pub closures, which, according to the Campaign for Real Ale, in February, slowed from 18 a week in 2017 to 14 a week last year.
Pubs as a destination for a meal
NPD Group insights director Dominic Allport said: “Pubs need to do more with their meal proposition as fewer consumers are seeing pubs as a destination for a meal, but more of a place to have a quick drink.
“Pubs can grow visits to these day parts by offering meal deals and promotions that will encourage consumers who are purely there for a drink to stay longer for a meal.
“Families are a big consumer group for pubs, accounting for 35.6% of total visits, and traffic is growing year on year by 5.2% in the year ending Dec 2018, while adult-only occasions have declined by 3% in year ending December 2018,” he continued.
“Families are often well catered for in pubs, with menus and entertainment offered specifically for kids.
“However, pubs need to make sure they are not alienating adult-only groups and can achieve this aim by creating dedicated ‘family’ and ‘non-family’ areas.”