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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12 things we learned by reading every single National Rail timetable

Some departure boards, yesterday. Image: CC-BY-SA

A couple of weeks ago, someone on Twitter asked CityMetric’s editor about the longest possible UK train journey where the stations are all in progressive alphabetical order. Various people made suggestions, but I was intrigued as to what that definitive answer was. Helpfully, National Rail provides a 3,717 page document containing every single timetable in the country, so I got reading!

(Well, actually I let my computer read the raw data in a file provided by ATOC, the Association of Train Operating Companies. Apparently this ‘requires a good level of computer skills’, so I guess I can put that on my CV now.)

Here’s what I learned:

1) The record for stops in progressive alphabetical order within a single journey is: 10

The winner is the weekday 7.42am Arriva Trains Wales service from Bridgend to Aberdare, which stops at the following stations in sequence:

  • Barry, Barry Docks, Cadoxton, Cardiff Central, Cardiff Queen Street, Cathays, Llandaf, Radyr, Taffs Well, Trefforest

The second longest sequence possible – 8 – overlaps with this. It’s the 22:46pm from Cardiff Central to Treherbert, although at present it’s only scheduled to run from 9-12 April, so you’d better book now to avoid the rush. 

  • Cardiff Central, Cardiff Queen Street, Cathays, Llandaf, Radyr, Taffs Well, Trefforest, Trehafod

Not quite sure what you’ll actually be able to do when you get to Trehafod at half eleven. Maybe the Welsh Mining Experience at Rhondda Heritage Park could arrange a special late night event to celebrate.

Just one of the things that you probably won't be able to see in Trehafod. Image: Wikimedia/FruitMonkey.

There are 15 possible runs of 7 stations. They include:

  • Berwick Upon Tweed, Dunbar, Edinburgh, Haymarket, Inverkeithing, Kirkcaldy, Leuchars
  • Bidston, Birkenhead North, Birkenhead Park, Conway Park, Hamilton Square, James Street, Moorfields
  • Bedford, Flitwick, Harlington, Leagrave, Luton, St Albans City, St Pancras International

There is a chance for a bit of CONTROVERSY with the last one, as you could argue that the final station is actually called London St Pancras. But St Pancras International the ATOC data calls it, so if you disagree you should ring them up and shout very loudly about it, I bet they love it when stuff like that happens.

Alphabetical train journeys not exciting enough for you?

2) The longest sequence of stations with alliterative names: 5

There are two ways to do this:

  • Ladywell, Lewisham, London Bridge, London Waterloo (East), London Charing Cross – a sequence which is the end/beginning of a couple of routes in South East London.
  • Mills Hill, Moston, Manchester Victoria, Manchester Oxford Road, Manchester Piccadilly – from the middle of the Leeds-Manchester Airport route.

There are 20 ways to get a sequence of 4, and 117 for a sequence of 3, but there are no train stations in the UK beginning with Z so shut up you at the back there.

3) The longest sequence of stations with names of increasing length: 7

Two of these:

  • York, Leeds, Batley, Dewsbury, Huddersfield, Manchester Victoria, Manchester Oxford Road
  • Lewes, Glynde, Berwick, Polegate, Eastbourne, Hampden Park, Pevensey & Westham

4) The greatest number of stations you can stop at without changing trains: 50

On a veeeeery slow service that calls at every stop between Crewe and Cardiff Central over the course of 6hr20. Faster, albeit less comprehensive, trains are available.

But if you’re looking for a really long journey, that’s got nothing on:

5) The longest journey you can take on a single National Rail service: 13 hours and 58 minutes.

A sleeper service that leaves Inverness at 7.17pm, and arrives at London Euston at 9.15am the next morning. Curiously, the ATOC data appears to claim that it stops at Wembley European Freight Operations Centre, though sadly the National Rail website makes no mention of this once in a lifetime opportunity.

6) The shortest journey you can take on a National Rail service without getting off en route: 2 minutes.

Starting at Wrexham Central, and taking you all the way to Wrexham General, this service is in place for a few days in the last week of March.

7) The shortest complete journey as the crow flies: 0 miles

Because the origin station is the same as the terminating station, i.e. the journey is on a loop.

8) The longest unbroken journey as the crow flies: 505 miles

Taking you all the way from Aberdeen to Penzance – although opportunities to make it have become rarer. The only direct service in the current timetable departs at 8.20am on Saturday 24 March. It stops at 46 stations and takes 13 hours 20 minutes. Thankfully, a trolley service is available.

9) The shortest station names on the network have just 3 letters

Ash, Ayr, Ely, Lee, Lye, Ore, Par, Rye, Wem, and Wye.

There’s also I.B.M., serving an industrial site formerly owned by the tech firm, but the ATOC data includes those full stops so it's not quite as short. Compute that, Deep Blue, you chess twat.

10) The longest station name has 33 letters excluding spaces

Okay, I cheated on this and Googled it – the ATOC data only has space for 26 characters. But for completeness’ sake: it’s Rhoose Cardiff International Airport, with 33 letters.

No, I’m not counting that other, more infamous Welsh one, because it’s listed in the database as Llanfairpwll, which is what it is actually called.


This sign is a lie. Image: Cyberinsekt.

11) The highest platform number on the National Rail network is 22

Well, the highest platform number at which anything is currently scheduled to stop at, at least.

12) if yoU gAze lOng into an abYss the abySs alSo gazEs into yOu

Image: author's own.

“For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved”, said Thomas.

Ed Jefferson works for the internet and tweets as @edjeff.

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