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Food and Drink Sales in Britain’s Cities Back in Growth as Workers and Visitors Return

The Top Cities Vibrancy report reveals buoyant Spring sales for restaurants, pubs and bars as Bristol is ranked Britain’s most vibrant city, while northern hubs bounce back Restaurants, pubs and bars in Britain’s major city centres are achieving solid growth in sales from pre-COVID levels, new research from CGA and Wireless Social shows.

The joint ‘Top Cities’ report combines CGA’s sales data with device log-in data from Wireless Social, the leading connectivity solutions provider for hospitality and leisure businesses, to provide a ‘vibrancy’ ranking of Britain’s ten most populous cities over the four weeks to 7 May 2022.

It shows that nine of the ten cities recorded higher sales over the four-week period than in the same period in 2019. Bristol tops the list of most vibrant cities, and sales growth was also above 8% in Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow. See below for the full list of cities.

In the longer run, Manchester and Liverpool have achieved the highest sales growth since the start of the ‘Top Cities’ research in late 2021. These two cities have picked up where they left off before COVID, when CGA research showed hospitality was achieving some of its strongest sales growth and new openings there.

However, log-in volumes in all ten cities remain well below 2019—an indication that sales growth is being driven by higher spend and increased prices rather than by more frequency. The report also shows that London’s sales remain short of the levels of 2019, though with more commuters and tourists returning, the capital is getting closer to growth.

Optimism about city-centre restaurants, pubs and bars is tempered by high inflation, with costs rising sharply in food, energy, labour and other key areas. Steep price rises are also starting to squeeze some consumers’ spending.

CGA client director Chris Jeffrey said: “After more than two years of turmoil, Britain’s biggest cities are getting back to their pre-COVID vibrancy. We continue to see a release of pent-up demand, especially for late-night dining and drinking, and the steady return of workers to offices has been a welcome boost. However, footfall remains some way off what might be expected at this time of year, and COVID issues have been swiftly followed by intense cost pressures on businesses and consumers alike. While the long-term outlook for city-centre hospitality is good, significant challenges lie ahead.”

Julian Ross, founder and CEO of Wireless Social, said: “While it’s great to see sales activity ahead of 2019 in some parts of the country, it is concerning that London has fallen back down these rankings from the growth it experienced last month. The shift to flexible working, with the majority of office workers still spending part of the week at home, has hit the capital hardest; but, with summer on the horizon we can all be hopeful that this will drive traffic in major tourist hot spots. In the face of inflation hitting a 40-year high, ongoing price increases and a labour market with a record number of vacancies, the sector is still battling unprecedented challenges and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.”

The series of ‘Top Cities: Vibrancy Ranking’ reports is based on a powerful combination of sales data from CGA’s Managed Volume Pool of more than 8,000 pubs, bars and restaurants, and Wireless Social’s guest data gathered from more than one million log-ins. It provides the most accurate assessment yet of the vibrancy of Britain’s key city markets for eating and drinking out.

Britain’s 10 biggest cities, ranked by vibrancy
Rankings for the four weeks to 7 May 2022. Numbers in brackets indicate position for the previous four weeks to 9 April 2022.
1 Bristol (5)
2 Glasgow (1)
3 Birmingham (2)
4 Manchester (3)
5 Leicester (4)
6 Liverpool (6)
7 Leeds (7)
8 Edinburgh (9)
9 Sheffield (10)
10 London (8)