The myth of restaurant competition?

3 min read
March 16, 2015

(16/03/2015) Why you don’t have as much choice as you might think when you go out to eat – and why it’s the fault of modern capitalist economics…

Green Goddesss Mch10 Bangers Mash Duckfries

One of the great things – we are told – about living in a western free-market economy is that capitalism creates competition, and competition means more choice. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the area of restaurants, with hundreds to choose from up and down the country – even if you only look at chain restaurants.

But did you realise most of the high-street chain eateries – from sandwich shops to fancy restaurants – are owned by a small group of companies? And you have even less choice when you step into a train station or airport. Here, we delve into the myth of restaurant competition.

Train stations

Have you ever wondered who owns which food outlets on station platforms and concourses up and down the UK? I bet you’ve presumed they are all owned by different organisations competing against each other for your business.

What would you think if you knew the majority of your choices were owned by a single company? And the same would be true for when you are at an airport. The company behind these franchises and brands is called SSP. SSP is a speciality food and retail provider for train stations and airports.

If you went to any of these then you probably went to an SSP outlet. They have 600 outlets across 20 airports and 115 railway stations across the UK.

Got an issue with a food outlet? Raise your complaint via Resolver now


Where SSP franchises the brand at a number of locations:

• Starbucks
• Burger King
• M&S Simply Food
• Caviar House & Prunier Seafood Bar
• WHSmiths
• YO! Sushi
• Harry Ramsden’s
• nam-po!

SSP Brands

• Millie’s Cookies
• Café Ritazza
• Camden Food Co
• Upper Crust
• The Pasty Shop
• Mi Casa Burritos
• Delice de France
• Whistlestop
• The Beer House
• Pumpkin
• Breadbox
• Pumpkin Café Shop
• Bonaparte’s
• Sloe Bar café

High Street

Outside of the station and on the high street, the situation is similar, so have a look below at the big chains and which brands they control: here is the list of which restaurants are owned by whom.

Mitchells & Butlers

This group is based in Birmingham and turned over £1,9 billion in 2013. They own a number of chains that you may have visited, including:

• Harvester
• Toby Carvery
• All Bar One
• Browns Restaurants
• Miller and Carter
• Vintage Inns
• Nicholson’s
• Sizzling Pubs
• O’Neill’s
• Crown Carveries
• Ember Inns


Whitbread is a key part of the high-street restaurant and coffee-shop chain picture, with a turnover of £2 billion in 2013. Their brands include:

• Premier Inn
• Costa Coffee
• Beefeater Grill
• Brewers Fayre
• Whitbread Inns
• Taybarns
• Table Table


Gondola operates more than 600 restaurants including:

• ASK Italian
• Kettners
• Zizzi

Tragus Group 

Is based in London and has over 295 restaurant in their chain. They turn over £277 million a year. 

• Belgo
• Bella Italia
• Café Rouge
• Huxleys
• Amalfi

Stonegate Pub Group

Has a number of brands and unbranded pubs with over 620 outlets including:

• Yates’s
• Slug & Lettuce
• Missoula Mountain
• The Living Room
• Scream
• Missoula Bars

So remember, if you experience poor service in a bar, sandwich shop, café or restaurant, think really carefully where else you want to take your business – because it might end up going into the same company coffers.

Especially if you’re looking at an outlet in a railway station or airport…

Resolver at the Ideal Home Show

If you want to catch founder James Walker in person, he’ll be representing at the Ideal Home Show in London Olympia on 29 30 and 31 March. James will be appearing on the Ideal Super Theatre stage, helping to demystify common household niggles, explaining the complicated world of consumer rights and showing you what you can do when things go wrong

You can find out more about the Ideal Home Show at London Olympia and buy tickets here

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