Brits like to sit. That was my big takeaway when I met with Peter Backman this week during the National Restaurant Association Show, which ended Tuesday. Backman is managing director of Horizons, a British foodservice research company, and each year we take time out of walking the show floor and attending educational sessions to compare notes on restaurant trends in the U.S. and U.K.
This year as last, one of my updates included the continuing growth of fast-casual restaurants—Technomic reports that sales in this segment totaled $39 billion in 2014, up 12.7 percent over 2013. Not so much across the pond.
In Britain, fast-casual activity is mostly restricted to transportation hubs and the London business district, notes Backman. Most multi-unit fast casuals number five to 25 outlets and they haven’t expanded into other locations as they have in the U.S., he adds.
“The real growth is in casual dining,” says Backman. Ironically, two of the fastest-growing U.K. concepts are inspired by American fare: Ed’s Easy Diner and Frankie and Benny’s. Ed’s, which bills itself as “the largest American diner chain,” is a 1950s-style eatery focusing on burgers, fried chicken and blue-plate specials. It now numbers about 30 locations, according to Backman, and is expected to expand to 50 by the end of 2015. Frankie & Benny’s, with the tagline “New York Italian Restaurant & Bar,” was developed by The Restaurant Group, a British company that operates 470 restaurants in the U.K. Other concepts of theirs include Chiquito, Coast to Coast, Garfunkel’s and the most recent addition, Joe’s Kitchen.
While busy lunchtime customers frequent spots such as Pret a Manger where they can grab and go, says Backman, when it comes to a more relaxed dining experience, the Brits seem to prefer full-service restaurants, spending between $15 and $30 for a meal. That in-between fast-casual experience hasn’t yet caught the fancy of restaurant patrons across the pond.