75% of young people having eaten out in the last fortnight – average meal spend goes up from £12.30 to £13.30.

Britain has become a “nation of grazers” who are eating out more than ever and more regularly throughout the day, providing restaurants, coffee shops and sandwich outlets with recession-proof trade, according to the British Council of Shopping Centres (BCSC) in new research published today.

The research highlights the lack of consistency in UK meal times where, at no point during the day, are as many as 20 per cent of Britons eating a meal. This compares with the Spanish where around 40 per cent of people were found to be eating at 2.50pm and 30 per cent at 9.30pm.

This daily spread and merging of breakfast, lunch and dinner in the UK provides restaurant owners with repeat commercial opportunities to benefit from significant changes in Britain’s eating habits.

The new report, ‘Food and beverage: a solution for shopping centres?’, which was produced by BCSC in partnership with Savills and Aspect Market Research, puts London at the top of the irregular eating league tables claiming the crown as Britain’s ‘King of Grazers’.

Millions of people are commuting into the capital each day compared with the rest of the UK with journeys often staggered leading to extended and varied eating times. This, coupled with the sheer volume of different types of food outlet, means that London retains its attractiveness to new dining concepts.

The research also shows that younger adults (18 to 34) eat out most frequently, with 75 per cent having eaten out in the past two weeks. The average for adults of all ages is lower at around 67 per cent. The average spend per meal has also increased by one pound over the last 12 months, from £12.30 to £13.30.

New restaurant openings targeted at the ‘fast casual diner’ have come thick and fast hoping to benefit from the exponential rise in younger adults dining out and increasing meal spend.

Shopping centres, and shops themselves, are also undergoing a transformation to a greater emphasis on eating out. Over the last five years, there has been a significant shift from retail usage to restaurants. In 2009, conversion from shops to restaurants was around 700,000 sq ft and two years later, in 2011, this had risen to a massive 3 million sq ft dropping down to 1.7 million sq ft in 2012.

Restaurants and cafes are widely thought to increase “dwell time” in shopping destinations, keeping shoppers around longer to the benefit of the stores too, but the research uncovered what it has called “the substitution effect”. What it means is that, although shoppers are lingering longer, the additional time is spent only in eateries with consumers substituting potential extra shopping time for eating time.

Davinder Jhamat, Head of Research and Education, BCSC, commenting on the new research paper, said:

“For Britons, breakfasts are turning into early lunches, dinner time changes daily and we are approaching our eating with a ‘little and often’ approach. This is good news for the food and drink industry and good news for younger diners looking for value for money and a fast casual dining experience.

“Our research shows that the branded restaurant market is predicted to grow from £16.4 billion in 2013 to a whopping £22 billion in 2018, so the food and beverage market will certainly continue to thrive. The challenge for shopping centre owners will now be to draw shoppers back to spend in stores after they’ve refuelled!”