Skip to main content

You are here

Star-spangled success: the rise of American hospitality brands within the UK

The rise of American hospitality brands within the UK

From bar/restaurant concepts like Dirty Bones to UK burger poster boys such as Honest Burger and MEATliquor to newer operators like Bleeker and fried chicken specialists Butchies, so many of the UK’s fastest growing concepts owe their inspiration to the USA.

But as well as the multitude of UK operators who have tapped into the Americana trend, in the past few years, an increasing number of long-established operators from across the pond have launched or are planning to open sites in the UK.

These operators clearly want some of the success action of American brands such as McDonald's, Starbucks, Costa Coffee, KFC, Burger King and Subway which are among the top 10 highest revenue restaurant brands in the UK. (Globaldata research 2018).

The arrival of these successful American brands is undoubtedly putting increasing pressure on UK casual dining operators with fresh competition, but as many of the inbound brands are planning expansion through franchises, it is also opening up well supported new opportunities for small restaurant operators in the UK, as well as helping to fuel growth and create jobs in the UK hospitality market.

Of course, it isn’t just US companies coming here, with a plethora of UK operators such as, Burger & Lobster, Wagamama, BrewDog and Leon among those who have sites in the USA, with Hawksmoor also opening in New York this year.

Among the latest arrivals from across the pond is one of the biggest names in Stateside street food, fast-casual chain The Halal Guys. The 200+ site brand, which serves halal hot sandwiches or platters made with chicken, beef or falafel made its debut in Leicester Square in April and plans to expand through franchises in the UK over the next five years. The brand was founded in 1990 in New York by three Egyptian immigrants who opened a street food cart to cater for Muslim taxi drivers. A second site is already planned for Earls Court.

Healthy vegan restaurant brand By Chloe has also crossed the Atlantic from LA and New York with two sites opening in London last year at Covent Garden and Tower Bridge and a third site due to open at London’s 02 soon.

Cracking the UK market

Also coming soon to the UK from LA is egg sandwich concept Eggslut, which has six sites in the US, and has secured its first UK site in Notting Hill set to open this summer (2019). There are roll-out plans for the concept here, whose most famous menu creation is “The Slut”.

Chicken brands taking flight

Chicken brand Wingstop, which is aiming to take on Nandos in the UK, opened its first site in London’s Cambridge Circus in August and is looking to scale at pace through franchising with around 100 restaurants planned.

Also spreading its wings in the UK is American fried chicken franchise Slim Chickens, which now has three sites, two in London and one in Cardiff (which opened in January). The brand started in 2013 in Arkansas and offers hand-breaded British chicken tenders, fresh Buffalo wings and handmade dipping sauces.

More American buns on seats

Despite some burger brands being among those feeling the strain of last year’s casual dining crunch in the UK, a multitude of US burger chains have been eager to open and expand on UK soil in the past couple of years. Among them is Wahlburgers which will open its first restaurant outside the US in London’s Covent Garden later this year. At the helm of the brand, which has 27 sites in the US, is Paul Wahlberg and his actor brothers Mark and Donnie. The brand currently features in own reality TV series which showcases the running of the restaurant group.

Wahlburgers joins Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group’s Shake Shack in making its UK debut in Covent Garden. This first Shake Shack site, which first opened in 2013, has just reopened with a revamped look and menu. Shake Shack now has nine UK restaurants, eight in London and one in Cardiff.

Among other US brands hoping to steal a march on the UK market is Fatburger, which currently has three sites in the UK, first opening in Camden in 2015. Its first UK franchise a Fatburger and Buffalo’s Express in Dundee opened in January (2019). Fat Brands, the parent company of Fatburger signed an agreement with Charlie FB in October 2017 to open further franchise sites in the UK.

Californian custom made burger chain The Counter opened its first UK site in Glasgow in 2017. It also has a site in Dublin, with others planned for the UK.

Expansion Guys

The UK was the first opening outside of North America for Five Guys, the brand where there are 25,0000 possible ways to order a burger, with Five Guys first landing in Blighty at its  Convent Garden site in 2013. The brand was brought to the UK in a joint venture with the brand’s owners the Murrell family and Carphone Warehouse founder Charles Dunstone. Five Guys, which is the favourite burger of Barak Obama, now has 92 UK/Ireland restaurants, including 24 in the capital, and has recently said it is committed to further growth in the UK in 2019, with sites in Camden, Plymouth and Peterborough opening soon.

Smashburger, which launched its first UK site in Milton Keynes in 2016, has seven sites in the UK and has previously said it was targeting 35 sites here.

Wimpy, a brand originally founded in the US, is also making a come-back with sites recently opening in Portslade, East Sussex and Shrewsbury.

Slice of the UK action

Which Wich hot sandwich chain, which opened the first site in Dallas in 2003 and has its own radio channel, opened its first site last February in St Giles Plaza. The brand, which is also planning further UK sites, is known for its customisable sandwiches and ordering system which sees customers’ write their order choices on brown sandwich bags.

US sub concept franchise John Smith Subs also opened its first site in Hammersmith last year and is looking to make further inroads here.

Mega US chain Taco Bell which specialises in Tex-Mex fast food, including hard shell tacos, is planning to open multiple sites here through franchises. It now has 28 restaurants in the UK, with its most recent opening in Doncaster.

‘Special relationship’ with Americana

With a number of other operators also having an eye on the UK and the further roll-out of many of these now well-established restaurant brands, it seems that UK consumers special relationship with American food looks set to continue. With Brexit undoubtedly shaking the confidence of many potential investors in the UK, this increase in American restaurant brand immigration can’t be a bad thing for the UK hospitality market at present.