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What Does London's New Late-Night Transit Mean for Restaurants?

The service is expected to generate millions of dollars — but will restaurants reap the rewards?

Historic Night For London Underground As Trains Run through The Night Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images

London’s new, 24-hour Tube service will be a boon for commuters, especially for those in the hospitality industry who work late at night. But local businesses, particularly restaurants and bars, are hoping to reap some rewards, too.

According to CNN, the night Tube is expected to provide the city with a $101 million boost in revenue over the next 15 years. CNN cites a report by EY and business lobby, London First, which finds that the service could help create 2,200 new jobs.

Local councils are responsible for setting evening bar hours.

Restaurants and bars are among the businesses most likely to benefit. Staff at Duck and Waffle, a 24-hour restaurant in London, told CNN the Night Tube is "a great business opportunity," and that it could force the restaurant to bring in additional staff. British pub chain Greene King is hosting "special late-night happy hours over the next few weeks to toast the new service."

But the outlook isn’t quite as rosy for all bars and restaurants, particularly those that don’t already offer late-night hours. Restaurant consultant Adam Hyman tells Eater that unless London legislators "adopt a far less draconian attitude to licensing and operating hours," restaurants and bars are not going to see much of a boost.

"Although the Tube running all night will be positive for our industry, there's an underlying problem that lies with the local councils in London that make it virtually impossible for restaurants and bars to trade past midnight," says Hyman. "It’s fantastic that we now have a public transport system to ferry Londoners home at all hours from post-midnight dinners, after that last misjudged 1 a.m. martini — but there's one catch: There's nowhere open to drink it."

Most bars still close by 10:30 or 11 p.m.

In 2008, London passed a 24-hour drinking law, which many assumed would end British pubs’ long-standing tradition of closing at 11 p.m. But as Hyman explains, it is local councils that give individual bars and restaurants their licenses. So, "due to local residents complaining about noise, etc." most bars still close by 10:30 or 11 p.m., despite the 24-hour law.

Russell Norman, co-founder of the POLPO Group, operates eight restaurants and bars in central London. "The big problem, and it is a problem, is that the vast majority of restaurants and bars are not permitted to open beyond 11 or 11:30 p.m.," he says. "Some have been granted an extra hour on Fridays and Saturdays, but it's hardly cosmopolitan."

Norman says that the local authorities, who control permitted business hours through their licensing and planning departments, are convinced later hours will lead to "public disorder."

"It really does feel like we are living in a nanny state rather than a world-class city," says Norman. "So although it's great that London is finally getting a [limited] 24-hour Tube service, unless restaurants and bars are permitted to operate in a sophisticated and grown-up way, it won't have quite the effect some commentators are predicting."

"It feels like we are living in a nanny state rather than a world-class city."

But even restaurants that close before midnight could see a bump in business thanks to the Tube. The managing director of the London Underground told the Evening Standard that approximately 100,000 people will use the service on Friday and Saturday nights. The vast majority of riders, though, won’t be people looking to have a good time, but will likely be hospitality workers looking to get home after a long day at work.

A handful of Norman’s restaurants sit in the entertainment districts of Soho and Covent Garden, where the demand for late night drinking and dining is greater. Those businesses, he says, stand to benefit the most when it comes to late-night customers.

"We expect to experience a small upturn in business in that last hour between 10:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.," says Norman. "I'm not sure, however, that Londoners are 24-hour creatures in the same way that New Yorkers are. The biggest bonus of the night Tube service is that it means my staff will be able to get home more easily, safely, and conveniently without having to rely on the awful night busses."

The new 24-hour service launched earlier this month on two Tube lines, but three additional lines will follow in the fall. By that time, the London Underground hopes that its nightly ridership will increase "by around 40 percent."

The economic boost certainly couldn’t come at a better time. Many in the restaurant industry, along with farmers and business owners, have been faced with looming questions about their economic futures since voters passed Brexit in June.

London's 24-Hour Tube = $101 Million Economic Boost [CNN]
Night Tube Launch: 24-Hour Tube Service 'Isn't Just for Revellers', London Underground Boss Warns [Evening Standard]
Night Tube: Your Guide to the Best 24-Hour Bars and Restaurants [IBT]

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