Britain’s night time economy is booming. So why isn’t the restaurant trade making the most of it?

Eat up. Image: Getty.

For a long time, theatre was the favourite pastime of British city-dwellers – but curtain calls at The Globe and other open-air Elizabethan theatres happened once a day, exclusively during the daylight hours.

Today it is a totally different story. Cities have the economic power and infrastructure to keep the night-time economy alive. Electric street lighting made night-time travel safe, and later paved the way for bars, clubs, theatre outings and a whole range of other late-night activities.

Nightlife is alive and well in London, where theatreland is still flooded with people up until midnight, and even South Kensington’s museums attract visitors late at night. Last summer, what’s more, the night-tube boosted spending and earning considerably across the suburbs serviced by 24-hour tube. The night-time economy seems to be in good shape, and London is said to be catching up with New York, Berlin, Sydney, Barcelona and Singapore.

In financial terms, London First estimates that improvements to transport will make the night-time economy worth up to £17bn per year in the capital, supporting 700,000 jobs. London mayor Sadiq Khan has already appointed a “night czar”, Amy Lamé, to make sure we reap all the benefits of night time trade. Meanwhile the rest of the country enjoys a night-time economy worth £66bn, according to the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers’ Late Night Manifesto.

But are we where we should be? Arguably, Britain is still far behind. It has long been a complaint that food choices are scant after midnight in Europe. This is no longer just a practical complaint; it’s holding back the rest of the night-time economy at a time of great opportunity.

Across the UK, the last month saw a 6.8 per cent rise in spending year-on-year on recreation and culture. This was followed closely by the restaurant and bars sector, where spending rose 6 per cent, according to Visa’s Consumer Spending Index. These figures rose faster than those for any other industry, showing that restaurants are the first to see revenue rise when consumers have more money to spend. It is important the restaurant industry grows to meet demand: it is the first place people go to spend money.

However, the benefits of the night-time economy are not yet passing into the restaurant trade.  Restaurants’ doors are still only open until midnight at the latest in most parts of the UK. We are currently failing to tap into the same trends in late-night eating as the rest of the world.

Throughout the world, pop-up restaurants and street food are supporting the night-economy’s diet. Britain attracts culinary talent from throughout the world. Britain’s food and drink industry develops 16,000 new products every year, and London is known as the world’s culinary capital. The night market should be seen as a stage for new ideas that have not been tried on the streets of Britain yet.

Restaurants are also suffering from a shortage of skilled staff, partly caused by the introduction of visa policies that make it difficult for workers with culinary skills to come to the UK from abroad. Curry houses, Chinese restaurants and other ethnic cuisines remain very popular, but visa rules should be relaxed in order for the industry to grow.

Often, restaurants’ potential customers are retreating to their sofas and beds where on-demand television and social media can keep them occupied through the night while others are enjoying the nightlife. Visa data shows that e-commerce is also up by 6 per cent year-on-year in the past month. Barclays research has found that online purchasing and browsing peaks in the two hours before midnight and doesn’t drop off until 3am. Shouldn’t the restaurant industry be picking up a greater share of night-time spending activity in Britain?

A global city like London has a packed calendar of cultural celebrations and, from August’s Notting Hill Carnival to this weekend’s Food and Curry festival on Brick Lane, they are great ways to satisfy your appetite to find new flavours. There are plenty of reasons to leave the house – but not all of them favour the night-time economy.

And the night-time economy is not just an extension of the day’s business into the late hours: it’s a chance to do things differently. The night also offers an opportunity to double our flavour palate. World festivals, like Diwali, should give us ways to swiftly open up London’s market of night-time food trading, fusing food and drink from across cultures.

We should tap into areas of high footfall and take advantage of consumers’ changing tastes. British cities have the skills and creativity to muscle in and there is no shortage of culinary entrepreneurs to make Britain an around-the-clock culinary centre.

We are an international nation and a globally-competitive economy. But we have not seen the very best of Britain’s nightlife just yet.

Lord Bilimoria is the founder and chairman of Cobra Beer, and the founding Chairman of the UK-India Business Council. 

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Barnet council has decided a name for its new mainline station. Exciting!

Artist's impression of the new Brent Cross. Image: Hammerson.

I’ve ranted before about the horror of naming stations after the lines that they’re served by (screw you, City Thameslink). So, keeping things in perspective as ever, I’ve been quietly dreading the opening of the proposed new station in north London which has been going by the name of Brent Cross Thameslink.

I’ve been cheered, then, by the news that station wouldn’t be called that at all, but will instead go by the much better name Brent Cross West. It’s hardly the cancellation of Brexit, I’ll grant, but in 2017 I’ll take my relief wherever I can find it.

Some background on this. When the Brent Cross shopping centre opened besides the A406 North Circular Road in 1976, it was only the third large shopping mall to arrive in Britain, and the first in London. (The Elephant & Castle one was earlier, but smaller.) Four decades later, though, it’s decidedly titchy compared to newer, shinier malls such as those thrown up by Westfield – so for some years now, its owners, Hammerson, have wanted to extend the place.

That, through the vagaries of the planning process, got folded into a much bigger regeneration scheme, known as Brent Cross Cricklewood (because, basically, it extends that far). A new bigger shopping centre will be connected, via a green bridge over the A406, to another site to the south. There you’ll find a whole new town centre, 200 more shops, four parks, 4m square feet of offices space and 7,500 homes.

This is all obviously tremendously exciting, if you’re into shops and homes and offices and not into depressing, car-based industrial wastelands, which is what the area largely consists of at the moment.

The Brent Cross site. Image: Google.

One element of the new development is the new station, which’ll sit between Hendon and Cricklewood on the Thameslink route. New stations are almost as exciting as new shops/homes/offices, so on balance I'm pro.

What I’ve not been pro is the name. For a long time, the proposed station has been colloquially referred to as Brent Cross Thameslink, which annoys me for two reasons:

1) Route names make rubbish modifiers because what if the route name changes? And:

2) It’s confusing, because it’s nearly a mile from Brent Cross tube station. West Hampstead Thameslink (euch), by contrast, is right next to West Hampstead tube.

Various other names have been proposed for the station. In one newsletter, it was Brent Cross Parkway; on Wikipedia, it’s currently Brent Cross South, apparently through confusion about the name of the new town centre development.

This week, though, Barnet council quietly confirmed it’d be Brent Cross West:

Whilst the marketing and branding of BXS needs to be developed further, all parties agree that the station name should build upon the Brent Cross identity already established. Given the station is located to the west of Brent Cross, it is considered that the station should be named Brent Cross West. Network Rail have confirmed that this name is acceptable for operational purposes. Consequently, the Committee is asked to approve that the new station be named Brent Cross West.

Where the new station will appear on the map, marked by a silly red arrow. Image: TfL.

That will introduce another irritating anomaly to the map, giving the impression that the existing Brent Cross station is somehow more central than the new one, when in fact they’re either side of the development. And so:

Consideration has also been given as to whether to pursue a name change for the tube station from “Brent Cross” to “Brent Cross East”.

Which would sort of make sense, wouldn’t it? But alas:

However owing to the very high cost of changing maps and signage London-wide this is not currently being pursued.

This is probably for the best. Only a handful of tube stations have been renamed since 1950: the last was Shepherd’s Bush Market, which was until 2008 was simply Shepherd's Bush, despite being quite a long way from the Shepherd's Bush station on the Central line. That, to me, suggests that one of the two Bethnal Green stations might be a more plausible candidate for an early rename.

At any rate: it seems unlikely that TfL will be renaming its Brent Cross station to encourage more people to use the new national rail one any time soon. But at least it won’t be Brent Cross Thameslink.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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