The number of UK pubs and bars increased for the first time in a decade during 2019, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The total number rose by 315, or 0.8%, last year to 39,130, driven by food sales.
The ONS said that the first increase seen since the financial crisis also saw a boost for smaller pubs.
The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) said it “cautiously welcomed” the news.
According to ONS data, the number of smaller venues with fewer than 10 employees increased by 85 in 2019.
That follows on from more than 15 years of closures.
High Stickland, senior statistician at the ONS, said: “While smaller pubs have been struggling to survive in recent years, bigger pubs have been growing in number.
“We’ll have to wait to see if this marks a revival for smaller ‘locals’.”
Changing consumer habits
The ONS suggested that the overall boost was down to “changing consumer habits”.
New data shows that pubs and bars now employ more people to serve food, rather than drinks.
In 2003, roughly four in 10 employees in the pub industry were bar workers, with about three working in the kitchen.
The opposite is true today.
Some 457,000 people now work in pubs and bars across the UK, with food staff making up 43.8% of employees in the sector.
People are now spending more of their disposable income on eating out, rather than going for a pint.
Meanwhile, overall consumption of alcohol has fallen by about 16% since 2004, according to the charity Alcohol Change UK.
Despite this, and significant numbers of closures seen in recent years, the number of jobs added in the industry has generally been increasing.
There were 7,000 more jobs in the sector in 2019 compared with 2018, an increase of 1.6%.
Easing the pressures
The data received a mixed response from those in the trade.
A spokesperson for the BBPA said that association “cautiously welcomed any good news for pubs”.
It added that its own data has consistently shown a higher total number of pubs in the UK, and a higher number of closures.
It also said it hoped the upcoming Budget would see further respite for pubs and bars.
“Policy makers have a great opportunity in the March Budget to help pubs flourish, by easing the significant tax pressures they face from beer duty and business rates”, it said.
Nik Antona, national chairman of the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), also called for a review of business rates.
“Unfortunately pubs continue to close across the country, particularly in small or rural communities. This means the loss of the social, cultural and economic benefits that come with a well-run local.
“To ensure pubs survive and thrive, they need a fair tax system and stability going forward. Camra continues to call on the Government for a review of the business rates system, as was promised in the Conservative general election manifesto.”
Recent analysis by the BBC’s Shared Data Unit showed that councils are losing out on millions of pounds of potential business rates income because of a tax relief on empty properties.
The Treasury said it would announce a review of business rates “in due course”.
News from BBC