Last week the ONS confirmed that the UK economy grew by 0.8% in the first three months of the year. Meanwhile unemployment figures have fallen to 6.9%. One sector in particular is picking up. According to the Coffer Peach Business Tracker, Britain's restaurant and pub groups saw collective like-for-like sales grow 4.6 per cent in March against the same month last year, marking 12 consecutive months of positive growth for the sector.
This trend is clearly reflected in the jobs market as recruitment levels in this sector have moved beyond the pre-recession levels seen in 2008. According to data on Caterer.com, the UK's largest hospitality recruitment website, in the last 12 months 13,401 jobs in pubs and bars were advertised - compared with 12,000 in 2008, representing a 34% increase in the last quarter and a massive 33% increase year on year.
What is particularly encouraging is the fact that it's not only entry level positions that are thriving; management level recruitment has also picked up and together, Assistant Manager and General Manager job titles make up one in six of all roles in pubs and bars advertised on Caterer.com.
The strong growth in roles advertised in this sector could in part be due to a robust diversification strategy adopted by pubs and bars throughout the recession. Whilst pubs and bars were reported to be struggling to operate profitably, many survived by adjusting their offering and providing a new level of customer experience. This meant either introducing or improving their food offering, whilst also providing high standards of service.
As a result, many British pubs, both those independent pubs and those that form part of a larger brewery, have moved from a traditional "boozer" image to that of a gastropub or pub with food.
This is something that Hamish Stoddart is seeing at Peach Pubs: "Quality - whether in the food on the plate, the drink in the glass or the service at the table - has always been important. Yet with the pressure on consumer spending, the key to success lies in making sure your pub continues to beat the competition by offering a top quality product that makes more guests return to it and use it in a limited market. So an unstinting focus on standards is critical.
"Plus there's another factor here in that we're seeing a shift away from fine dining with consumers preferring more informal, relaxed settings to eat but still with the expectation that the food and the service will be top-notch. Operators are responding - the starred chefs are opening places with a more gastro feel - and this is something pubs can grab a bigger share of but only if they get the product right."
As a result of this trend, we have seen a huge increase in the number of chef roles advertised within the pubs and bars sector, with an increase of 34% in the last year. In comparison growth has been slower in the restaurant sector, with 24% growth year on year. Indeed, in 2009 for every chef advertised for a role in pubs and bars, there were six chefs advertised in restaurants. Now the ratio has fallen to 1:3.
It is clearly an exciting time for the pub and bar sector in the UK, with growth in managerial level staff and an increase in skilled chefs. Yet at the same time, it highlights more than ever the challenge for the industry to attract young talent, in order to ensure this sector can remain competitive into the future and mitigate against future skills gaps.