BigHospitality examines the key trends, and what this means for the market in 2015 and beyond.
The top 10 most popular restaurants at Bookatable last year were as follows:
1. OXO Tower Brasserie, London
2. Afternoon Tea at The Ritz, London
3. Alton Towers
4. The Rainforest Café, London
5. Cloud 23, Deansgate, Manchester
6. Jamie's Italian, Newcastle
7. Covent Garden Fire & Stone, London
8. Miller & Carter, Sutton Park Birmingham
9. Jamie's Italian, Birmingham
10. Marco Pierre White Steakhouse, Birmingham
Expanding Northern dining scene
Six out of the top ten most popular restaurants in the UK on Bookatable were in the Midlands or further North, echoing comments from the chief executive of the Northern Restaurant & Bar trade show that ‘the world has finally woken up to the strength and potential’ of Northern England’s dining scene.
Figures from CGA Peach’s Outlet Index show that the eating-out markets in Manchester and Leeds experienced higher growth than London between 2005 and 2014, rising 57 per cent and 55 per cent respectively, compared to London’s more modest 31 per growth.
However, trading in the capital remains strong, with the OXO Tower Brasserie taking 45,000 bookings in 2014 alone, while Afternoon Tea at the Ritz topped 33,000.
Family friendly dining
London’s Rainforest café was the fourth most booked restaurant last year, indicating continued demand for family friendly dining experiences.
Similarly, Alton Towers, which features secret garden and pirate themed restaurants, rose from seventh to third position with over 33,000 bookings in 2014.
The continued growth of the casual dining sector has been attributed to its ability to combine ‘newness and diversity’ with a ‘family orientated treat’, key consumer trends identified by NPD Group research.
Popularity of Italian and British cuisine
Italian cuisine was the most booked restaurant type last year, boosted by the popularity of Jamie Oliver’s restaurants, which passed the £100m turnover milestone in 2014.
Bookings at Jamie’s Italian sites in Newcastle and Birmingham accounted for 16 per cent of all bookings at the top ten restaurants in 2014.
Though diners continue to enjoy a wide range of cuisines, with French, European, American and Mexican remaining popular, British food was the second most booked restaurant type.
This ongoing trend indicates that while tastes for international food can vary year on year, British consumers continue to enjoy native dishes.
Rising popularity for UK cuisine has been attributed to the success of programmes such as The Great British Bake Off, as well as the evolving UK restaurant scene.
Mobile technology is becoming increasingly important to consumers as a means to research and book restaurants, reflected in a 19 per cent increase in mobile bookings at Bookatable between January 2014 and January 2015.
The company has urged restaurateurs to tap in to this shifting consumer behavior by optimising menus and table bookings for mobile devices.
A 2014 YouGov poll found that while 31 per cent of diners said it was important to view a restaurant website before visiting it, 68 per cent found restaurant websites ‘frustrating’.
The most common annoyances were failure to display a menu at all (31 per cent), and menus being hard to access (17 per cent), including those that were downloadable PDF’s.
Joe Steele, CEO of Bookatable, said: “We are very excited to see such a dramatic rise in the number of bookings made on our platform through mobiles devices, and feel this demonstrates an exciting shift in consumer behaviour towards on-the-go mobile booking over desktop use.”
Vegetarian and Vegan dining
Vegetarian and vegan dining are reportedly on the rise, with a 19 per cent rise in bookings to restaurants with a strong vegetarian offering or meat free menu between April and December 2014.
Data from 1.7m dishes ordered through TellTheChef showed that orders of gluten free dishes were up 12.8 per cent last year, while lactose free orders rose seven per cent.
In 2014 there was a 53 per cent increase in orders to restaurants where dietary requirements were identified.
Despite protests from a number of top chefs the new EU food allergy regulations may force more restaurants to begin catering for a previously untapped market. According to Coeliac UK, the hospitality industry is missing out on an estimated £100m per year just from the coeliac suffering community alone.
David Moore from Pied à Terre said: “Catering to both vegetarians and meat eaters at Michelin star level, we’ve been able to witness a real uplift in the amount of diners opting for veggie options over the last year.
“Now is a perfect time to make vegetarian menus as creative as possible and entice more diners, as vegetarian dining is set to become even more popular in 2015.”
London remains to be the UK’s veggie dining hotspot, with more restaurants offering meat free options than any other UK city.