It’s that time of year when the Christmas sales figures are released, the industry takes stock of the past 12 months – and starts thinking about what the next will hold.

Many retail giants reported an increase in online shopping and a decrease in offline purchases in 2017. Experts suggest this points to a major shift in the role of the high street as we know it. Speaking to BBC Radio Four’s Today programme earlier this week, retail guru Mary Portas argued that British high streets will become “social spaces,” adding that they’re “vital to communities” and urging Government to rethink business rates and parking in town centres.

Portas’ observations are likely to be welcomed by F&B businesses. With costs across the industry rising, it’s even more crucial for operators to maximise revenue from every site and many are already extending their operating hours into the evening to tap into the “social” trend Portas is talking about. I visited one of my favourite suburban deli/coffee shops recently to discover they’d moved their deli counter to another site a few doors down, making way for extra seating and a newly installed bar in the main café.

But maximising your offering doesn’t necessarily have to mean introducing alcohol. Data released by the Office for National Statistics towards the end of 2017 revealed that young adults aged between 16 and 24 are more likely to be teetotal than 10 years ago, meaning you could help meet the demand for a less-boozy night out.

Some savvy operators, like Lincoln’s Coffee Aroma (recently voted one of the top 10 UK coffee shops by The Guardian) are opening later at weekends to transform into European-style café bars. Coffee Aroma stays open until 11pm on Friday and Saturday and hosts a roster of events including acoustic nights, jazz performances, comedy acts – and even a Chinese New Year party.

But, as ever, there is a cautionary tale to tell. Moving away from what you’re known for doesn’t work for everyone – with Starbucks’ ‘Evenings’ programme being one high-profile example. This time last year Starbucks announced it would be calling last orders on the project, which involved serving wine, beer and hot food in the evening at selected stores (mainly in the US). Many analysts attributed its failure to poor brand alignment, concluding that it was simply not what consumers wanted nor expected from the brand.

But, as ever, there is a cautionary tale to tell. Moving away from what you’re known for doesn’t work for everyone

So, if ‘Evenings’ didn’t work for Starbucks, why should a change in formula work for smaller independent businesses? To be blunt, it might not. But independents do have the advantage of a smaller, more focussed customer base, allowing a closer relationship and a better understanding of their wants and needs. If you’re a one-man band, it also means you can be more flexible; try something new and, if it doesn’t work, try something else.

If you’re a restaurant, it could be as simple as offering after dinner cocktails. “If diners know they can relax and enjoy a drink post-meal, they are more likely to stay later, rather than moving on elsewhere,” says Tony Matters, Creative Director at Faber. “Adding even just a small bar area can help transform your premises from somewhere you might go to for lunch or dinner, to somewhere you could spend the entire evening – or even just pop in for a drink.”

Extending your hours doesn’t just mean opening later either; there are plenty of pubs which serve breakfast as well as lunch and dinner. Opening for breakfast means you can capitalise from potential customers who aren’t likely to come in during the evening, such as people on business day trips, or tourists looking for an alternative to the standard hotel breakfast. It’s a formula that certainly worked for Wetherspoons, which serves more than half a million breakfasts a week and now has 40 of its own hotels around the UK.

As another new year begins, it’s full of opportunities for F&B businesses to innovate. If you want to find out how our restaurant design experts can help you to get the most from your premises, get in touch.