Food for footfall: Impact of restaurant boom in North West
An influx of new eateries and schemes to reposition retail complexes as prime dining destinations is turning North West towns and cities into foodie hotspots. Move Commercial looks at the impact this ongoing high demand from restaurant operators is having in the region, and whether such a feast of food and drink establishments could ever be too much.
Words by Christine Toner
The North West has been party to something of a food revolution of late with new restaurants and cafés popping up on an almost weekly basis. Indeed our town centres, once dominated by retailers, are starting to become as popular for their culinary offerings as their shops.
Earlier this year the Metquarter in Liverpool’s Whitechapel announced plans to reposition itself as a premium dining and retail destination within the city, with several new restaurants set to open within the complex.
It will follow in the footsteps of Manchester’s Corn Exchange, previously The Triangle Shopping Centre and now home to 17 food outlets.
As blueprints go, it seems a smart one to follow.
“The Corn Exchange has brought a large number of new restaurants to the city which are not available elsewhere and has provided locals and visitors alike with a one-stop space for quality, casual dining,” says Sheona Southern, managing director of Marketing Manchester. “People seem to like the idea of being able to turn up and decide on the day what they will eat from a range of options. Its location works in its favour as the Manchester Arndale is next door, along with New Cathedral Street and The Printworks which all help in terms of footfall and passing trade.”
The Corn Exchange is situated in Manchester’s Medieval Quarter, an area which has seen significant regeneration since 2012 when the National Football Museum moved in.
“The Corn Exchange is a further extension of the redevelopment that has flourished in the area,” says Southern. “The National Football Museum was followed by improvements to the cathedral, Chethams Library, a Christmas market zone during the festive season and now a Metrolink stop on its doorstep which can only be beneficial to the future of the Corn Exchange.”
Of course the Corn Exchange is not the only prominent example of a previously retail-led area rethinking its offering. The Spinningfields area of Manchester, particularly The Avenue, has had great success in repositioning itself as a food destination.
“There is still a handful of luxury boutiques on The Avenue such as Emporio Armani, Mulberry, Flannels and Oliver Sweeney, but this number has dwindled over recent years with restaurants taking their place,” says Southern. “King Street is another area which is beginning to follow suit; its history is radically different to that of Spinningfields but a similar pattern is emerging. It was once one of the most important thoroughfares in the city centre and home to an abundance of high end, luxury shops and boutiques.”
It’s not just about restaurants taking spaces though, it’s about retailers leaving them. In order for previously retail-led areas to become home to restaurants, the units must be available. Southern says a decline in retail is causing this to happen.
“There hasn’t really been any standalone research into why retail focused areas in Manchester have seen restaurants move in,” she says. “The most logical reason appears to be that many bricks and mortar retail stores are suffering due to the rise of e-commerce, leading to widespread closures across the country. Therefore, commercial property owners are more than willing to offer their premises to the hospitality sector, which is on an upward trajectory at present and offers itself as a more sustainable partnership. It is worth remembering that these retail areas were and are still popular commercial thoroughfares which are receiving a lot of footfall and, even with the decline in the number of shops, these locations still remain vividly in the public psyche.”
“Many bricks and mortar retail stores are suffering due to the rise of e-commerce. Therefore, commercial property owners are more than willing to offer their premises to the hospitality sector.”
But how difficult is it to change the primary purpose of an area? And is it a challenge for agents when letting these spaces?
John Barker, partner at Liverpool-based commercial agent Hitchcock Wright & Partners, says it’s not always about changing the primary use of an area but more so meeting consumers’ demand.
“Thriving city centres are ones which have a mix of business, retail and leisure space, and Liverpool is developing in this way as different areas merge together,” he tells Move Commercial.
“Areas such as Castle Street in Liverpool are becoming real foodie destinations, something which Liverpool BID Company has been keen to showcase through its Commercial District Restaurant Weeks this year.
“The demise of the banks on Castle Street has left listed buildings which are much more suited to restaurant and hotel use than office use. Restaurants such as San Carlo and Viva Brazil established themselves early and have paved the way for new eateries and other destinations in the business district such as Exchange Flags.
“We’re dealing with a property on Castle Street which is currently in for planning, so this could provide yet another restaurant opportunity for this bustling food quarter.”
One need only look to Liverpool ONE for an example of a combined offering which has proven successful. The Grosvenor-developed leisure complex combines high end and high street stores with a host of restaurants and leisure activities and the combination of the two guarantees high footfalls.
“The demand for restaurants is almost as strong as for the stores,” says Donna Howitt marketing and business performance director at Liverpool ONE. “Exactly what draws visitors here; whether it be an enticing new menu, the latest clothing collection, the sales or one of our events varies depending on the time of year. As we near the festive season we are expecting millions of visitors to enjoy the in-store experiences, maybe catch a traditional choir or mulled wine, pick up an online order and then take the opportunity to recharge with one of our restaurants’ Christmas menus. Liverpool really is a day to night city destination welcoming visitors either travelling from further afield to enjoy our offer or just popping in.”
One danger with the current growth of the restaurant sector in the region is that we may be at risk of a saturated market. With retailers moving out and making way for eateries, the number of food establishments is soaring and a saturated market means it will be difficult for new ventures to survive.
“There are fantastic restaurants opening up in Manchester on a regular basis and it would be easy to say that the city can continue in sustaining all these new openings but their growth in the market needs to be relative to changes to the demographic and at the moment there is some risk of saturation,” says Southern. “As the market becomes more competitive and quality increases in an attempt to attract and retain customers, some of the weaker offerings are going to fall by the wayside.
“This isn’t limited to Manchester, of course, but is a familiar occurrence across almost all cities that are in possession of a rapidly developing food and drink market.”
According to recent research by Savills, food-led outlet growth has increased significantly across northern towns and cities of late with Liverpool, Manchester and Southport seeing year on year increases of 7.7%, 3.5% and 7% respectively. Saturation may well be a risk in the future but, at the moment, the sector is more successful than ever.