Northern soul: Nine CGA takeaways from the NRB show

The North of England’s hospitality scene has been notably resilient and innovative in recent years. With the recent Chanel fashion show, Eurovision and with Manchester being named one of the top travel destinations by Lonely Planet, the global spotlight is shining on the North of England.

At the recent Northern Restaurant and Bar show, Karl Chessell used CGA by NIQ’s unique fusion of sales data, location mapping, consumer research and leader surveys to pinpoint the trends and opportunities in this dynamic region.


Here are nine of his insights. 


1 Encouraging resilience on site numbers 

The Hospitality Market Monitor from CGA and AlixPartners shows net closures of nearly 3,000 licensed premises last year. However, the north of England has seen slightly smaller drops than the south, with net declines of 2.8% and 3.0% respectively in 2023. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, major northern cities like Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool have been significantly more resilient than London and their surrounding towns. 


2 Leaders stoic despite cost pressures 

Hospitality businesses have been besieged by inflationary pressures lately—especially on food prices—and it has affected confidence. In CGA’s latest Business Confidence Survey, only two in five (41%) leaders were optimistic about prospects for the market over the next 12 months—a sharp drop of eight percentage points since last Autumn. But as with site numbers, the northern half of England is more stoic than the south. While 40% leaders of businesses based in the south are pessimistic about their prospects, only 33% of those in the north feel that way. Nearly three quarters (71%) of northern leaders said their business was profitable in 2023—four percentage points more than the 67% in the south. 


3 Strong underlying demand… 

CGA’s Trading Index shows consistent mid-single-digit growth in managed groups’ like-for-like sales throughout the last 12 months. Consumer research confirms that people remain eager to go out when they can, and nearly three quarters (71%) say eating and drinking out is the treat they look forward to the most. The cost of living crisis has inevitably reduced the frequency of people’s visits, but we can be cautiously confident about a steady recovery as inflation eases. 


4 … When the weather allows 

CGA’s sales data consistently shows the close correlation between consumers’ spending and the weather, and it’s particularly clear in the north. Among those who told CGA’s Consumer Pulse that they went out less often than usual in February, 25% of those in the north said it was because of the weather—compared to only 16% in the south. 


5 Demand for music 

Music is a particularly important part of identity in the north. Three in five (61%) consumers in the north say they would buy tickets and drink out for live bands—nine percentage points more than in the south—and they are likely to stay for longer if live or background music is playing. Music and leisure hubs like Newcastle’s Tapyard Studios, and plans for new ones in towns including Middlesbrough, prove demand for music remains high. 


6 Hospitality powers regeneration  

The strong cultural identity driven by music, sport and hospitality is seeing regeneration, with hospitality at its heart. The revamping of historic spaces like Holmes Mill in Clitheroe and Dean Clough in Halifax, and joined-up thinking between businesses and councils in places like Stockport, shows how restaurants, pubs and bars can support local pride and economies. 


7 A willingness to premiumise 

Despite recent price rises, an encouraging four in five (79%) consumers say they were satisfied with the value for money of their recent hospitality experiences. And with high numbers willing to pay more for higher quality food (61%) and drink (50%), operators have good opportunities to premiumise people’s choices—but only if guests are satisfied that the extra spend is worth it. 


8 Interest in all-round experiences and big events 

Consumers in northern England are increasingly looking beyond food and drink for their hospitality experiences, with competitive socialising, live entertainment and pop-ups among the beneficiaries. People have also become more focused on national and special occasions like Christmas, Easter, St Patrick’s Day, Halloween and big sporting events, which have all delivered better-than-expected sales uplifts lately. Innovative Northern independents such as Feel Good and Grub are tapping into this demand for special occasions by delivering a calendar full of creative events and experiences.  


9 Ambitious operators 

Success in the north is prompting several big restaurant pub and bar groups to expand further south. Mission Mars, Roxy Leisure and the Graffiti Spirits Group are just three examples of operators that have been busy opening in the Midlands and London lately, while The Alchemist is looking even further afield to international locations. 



CGA by NIQ’s research solutions provide many actionable insights into key trends and opportunities in the north of England. To discover more, contact Karl Chessell at 




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