The pub and bar industry has faced challenge after challenge in recent years. From changing consumer attitudes to supply issues and the pandemic, running a pub or bar is not the same as it was a decade ago.

What’s more, consumer demand is under threat from the cost of living — so, it’s more important than ever that when customers are spending hard-earned money on a night out, they’re spending it in your establishment.

The question many business owners are asking themselves now is this — what do people want from a night out, and how can we give it to them? Catering and hospitality suppliers Alliance Online have looked into the highest-rated bars and pubs on TripAdvisor in cities across the UK to work out what they all have in common, or what sets them apart from the rest.

Pubs vs Bars

Everyone has their own opinion on what makes a pub and a bar different. It may be based on the kind of alcohol they specialise in, or whether they serve food or not. Or, it could be that one term is more Americanised than the other. In any case, people likely have a preference when it comes to the question of pubs vs bars — but which is the more popular type in the UK?

It may surprise you to learn that the humble pub, synonymous with British culture, came second in our research. Bars appeared 231 times among the most popular establishments in each UK city, whereas the term pub only appeared 99 times. Whether pubs have become unfashionable or simply too many of them have closed — in 2020, there were approximately 8,600 fewer pubs in the UK than 10 years ago — bars appear to be the stronger of the two.

The rise of brewpubs

Another term that appeared the most in our research was ‘brewpub’. A combination of a brewery and pub, these establishments will sell their own beers often in addition to local ales and popular brands. Brewpubs likely rose to prominence as a result of the millennial generation’s interest in craft ales, and the appeal is that customers can try something new each time they visit — or keep coming back for a new favourite that they can’t get anywhere else.

Running a brewpub is a great option if you want more autonomy over your brand, beer menu, and business model. The downside is that brewpubs are a much bigger commitment and take a lot of work to run — however, as 11 of the top-rated bars in the UK were brewpubs, it’s safe to say that this is a concept to consider.

Food offerings

While beer is still the most popular consumable offered in pubs and bars, a good food menu food is almost as important. It’s quite rare today to find a pub or bar that doesn’t serve hot food, even if it is just bar snacks or pub grub, and food contributes around 25.5% of bar and pub industry revenue in the UK. To put that figure in perspective, beer accounts for 32.4%.

So, what’s the best food to serve in a bar? According to our research, pizza is by far the most popular food type among the top-rated bars in the UK and was mentioned 20 times in total. Steak, fast food, and barbecue have also been mentioned a handful of times, although one popular bar in Truro cleverly boasted a seafood menu due to its proximity to the coast.

International influences are on the rise — but keeping it local comes top

Every bar needs a theme, and many take inspiration from different cultures and countries when designing their décor, menu, and ambience. Our neighbours in Europe proved popular, with European, Italian, and Mediterranean establishments appearing often, and even French and Belgian bars getting a mention apiece. Our Anglophonic friends performed well too, with American and Australian bars getting a few mentions each.

Some of the more unique establishments had an Asian influence, including Japanese, Korean, and Thai, however, a Latin theme was far more frequently mentioned with Mexican, Cuban, and Brazilian bars all appearing in our data more often. Another honourable mention goes to Caribbean and Jamaican bars.

That said, plain old British was still the most popular term among the top-rated bars and pubs in the UK, particularly in more rural areas, with 151 mentions in total. In Ireland and Scotland, Irish and Scottish types were popular. So, perhaps keeping it simple is the way forward if your bar or pub is outside a major city, or in a popular tourist hotspot.

Non-alcoholic options

Alcohol-free Gen-Z has been the topic of much discussion in the industry for a few years now, as this generation is generally less interested in alcohol than their parents and grandparents. This is cited as one of the reasons why so many pubs and bars are struggling to make ends meet, so how can you make sure you’re appealing to this generation in your establishment?

Eight of the most popular bars across the UK were also cafes, serving coffee and tea in addition to alcoholic beverages. This could be a great way to bring a more diverse range of patrons into your bar, not just limited to Gen-Z but anyone who abstains from alcohol for personal, health, or religious reasons too. Serving premium hot drinks can also open up a new revenue stream outside licenced hours.

Rachael Kiss, Marketing Manager at Alliance Online comments on the findings:

“As we all know, businesses must be flexible and adapt to new trends if they want to stay afloat, particularly in markets as saturated as the bar and pub industry. Paying close attention to what your local competitors are doing, or what’s proving effective in other cities, is a key way to offer your customers exactly what they’re looking for and draw new customers to your establishment.”

“One of the best ways to give your bar a refresh is to implement a new theme. Taking inspiration from your surroundings can be a boon if you’re in a tourist hotspot, for example on the coast or near a national landmark. Then, communicate your theme through décor, tableware, and your menu.”

“To go from a pub to a bar, you should consider implementing a more diverse drinks menu — including non-alcoholic and hot drink options — and stocking up on specialist glassware to serve them in. Think about offering hot food or bar snacks, and remember that presentation is just as important as the quality of your ingredients. Generally, the more creative you can be, the better as this will really capture people’s imaginations.”


To research the most popular kinds of bars and pubs, we looked at the tags of top-rated venues in every UK city on Trip Advisor. Each city’s restaurant category was filtered to show only Bars & Pubs, and the tags of the top five venues were recorded (where applicable, max. two tags per venue)

The list of UK cities was taken from here. There were no results on TripAdvisor for Ripon (England), Armagh, Bangor, and Lisburn (Northern Ireland), or St Davids (Wales) so these cities were omitted from the data.

Some venues in the data are primarily restaurants. In these cases, we looked into whether or not they have a bar area to qualify.

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