Published: 12:00, 11 January 2019
| Updated: 12:17, 11 January 2019
by Rebecca Tuffin
There has been a huge growth of coffee shops, cafes and fast-food joints in Maidstone and across West Kent.
The latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) data showed these businesses have more than doubled in two towns since 2010.
Statistics for Maidstone show in 2010 there were 25, but when the most recent figures were released in October, numbers stood at 60.
The KM counted eight more in the town centre by the end of the year, showing just how quickly the sector is growing.
It is a similar story in Tonbridge and Malling, where the sector grew from 20 businesses in 2010, to 50 by the end of 2018.
And in Tunbridge Wells the number rose from 35 to 60 in the same period.
But of course, more businesses on high streets naturally means more competition.
Investment bank Citybank said in a report the number of coffee shops cannot keep growing at the same high pace and forecast the boom in the sector will not last beyond 2022.
People in the UK drink 95 million cups of coffee each day, up from 70 million 10 years ago, according to a study by the Centre for Economics and Business Research.
One in 10 are sold in coffee shops, and more than half of those are served by market leaders Costa Cafe, Starbucks and Cafe Nero.
Ilsa Butler, from One Maidstone, which represents businesses in the town, said: “I think the growth in coffee shops and restaurants is indicative of a change in the way that people use town centres now.
“They may not always come into town purely for shopping, but might want to come in and meet a friend just for a coffee. This growth is a response to a demand from consumers. Competition is always fierce among businesses, whether they are run independently or as part of a chain.
“The offer in Maidstone is very strong when it comes to finding somewhere to have something to eat or to get a coffee and there is certainly something to suit most tastes and palates.”
Mike Cherry, the Federation of Small Business’s national chairman said: “Crucially, it isn’t just chain stores who are seeing their fortunes rise, but independents are also thriving in this food and drink boom.
“The caveat for this success is all smaller firms, whether they are selling coffee, clothes or carpets are constantly threatened by ever-rising business rates.”
Alexis Noel, owner of The Munch House in King Street, said she pays around £800 a month in business rates, which she described as “a huge amount”.
She agrees the culture in the UK is changing, adding: “I come from Sydney in Australia, where there’s a massive cafe culture, and when I came to the UK, in comparison there was definitely a massive and genuine need for more here.”
Dashamir Suli, owner of Leah’s Bistro in the High Street, has noticed the growing number of eating and drinking spots too.
But he sees competition as a healthy thing.
He said: “More competition means better service and better food, it keeps everything improving and gives people more choice.”
The ONS data covers unlicensed restaurants, which is defined as cafes, coffee shops and fast-food outlets.
They do not include restaurants which serve alcohol.