restaurant tables

Recent claims that restaurants are hardly registering a profit have reignited the debate as to whether there are simply too many options for eating out in Malta, prompting many to ask whether the industry is cannibalising itself.

That is a question that only the market can answer. After all, despite the wafer-thin margins, new eating establishments regularly pop up.

It is not a question that can only be answered by looking at the population. Malta’s population has increased rapidly over the last years, reaching 542,000 at last count. However, this resident population is augmented by the millions of tourists who visit Malta every year, fuelling demand for its gastronomic offerings.

What a review of the situation in a number of tourism hotspots does show is that Malta has more restaurants than many other popular destinations

New York City, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Rome, Dubai – Malta outstrips them all in the number of eating places available when taking into account the number of residents and visitors.

The data, for Malta as for the cities mentioned, often contains gaps and estimations, but the results lend weight to claims by the Association of Catering Establishments that there are too many restaurants for the country to handle.

Number of restaurants in Malta

There is no official figure for the number of restaurants in Malta. ACE vice-president Matthew Pace said last year that there are 3,500 places to eat in Malta.

Delving into that number, a review of the licences issued by the Malta Tourism Authority shows there are currently 837 restaurants, 1077 snack bars, 188 take-aways, 56 kiosks and 480 bars, amounting to a total of 2,638.

It is close to impossible to determine exactly how many of the bars serve food. The list includes several popular eating establishments, but also nightclubs. Complicating matters further is the fact that some establishments have both a bar and another licence.

Meanwhile, the number of licensed kiosks – 56 – is evidently much lower than the actual figure.

Mr Pace explains that many kiosks – along with football, waterpolo, band and political clubs – have licences issued by the Trade Licensing Unit of the Commerce Department, and are therefore missing from the MTA’s total.

In fact, there are 443 holders of permits to sell food and beverages registered by the Trade Licensing Unit.

In view of the challenges presented in the collation of precise data, we are adopting a more conservative estimate than that provided by ACE, settling on 3,000 as the total number of eating establishments in Malta.

Data sources

The number of restaurants in each city was determined via official statistics where possible, and the most common estimates in other cases. As is the case in Malta, it is not always clear whether that figure includes bars.

Population figures refer to each city’s metropolitan area. This provides a more accurate estimate, since many people live in suburban areas but eating places are concentrated in city centres. It also makes for a better comparison to Malta, which is a country.

Tourism figures refer to 2019, the last pre-pandemic year, and which was a record year for tourism in Malta and in many of the cities mentioned. The numbers of post-pandemic arrivals have not yet quite caught up, but are expected to reach and surpass them in the near future.

Residents vs number of restaurants

Based on 3,000 restaurants serving a population of 542,000, there are 180 residents per restaurant in Malta. This is the lowest figure of any destination reviewed, indicating fiercer competition.

Dubai is second, thanks to its 13,000 restaurants serving a population of 3.5 million.

Paris, with its 44,000 restaurants and 13 million population in its metropolitan area, comes third with 295 residents per restaurant.

The other cities reviewed are Rome (323 residents per restaurant), Barcelona (570), New York City (741), London (965) and Amsterdam (1,087).

Market size vs number of restaurants

Bringing tourist figures into the equation, there is one restaurant for every 1,080 potential patrons in Malta.

Again, this is the highest figure of any destination under review.

Rome, in second place, has one restaurant for every 1,115 potential patrons, while Paris comes third again, with one restaurant for every 1,431 persons.

Following the top three are Dubai (1,554 residents and tourists per restaurant), Barcelona (1,860), London (2,315), New York City (3,207) and Amsterdam (10,217).

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