Top-rated independent businesses in the UK
At Tide, we are dedicated to supporting startups and small businesses.
With this in mind, we want to celebrate some of the local heroes who consistently deliver brilliant experiences to their customers. We’ve been searching for the best-rated independent businesses in a selection of categories, using TripAdvisor data as our guide.
In this report, we focus on the perfect small businesses to visit on your summer break, including the top 10 performers across various hospitality, retail, and leisure niches, including:
- Ice cream shops [source]
- Fish and chip shops [source]
- Cafes [source]
- Vintage shops [source]
- Cinemas [source]
- Campsites [source]
Calculating the winners
To arrive at our top 10s, we searched TripAdvisor for each category, took the top 20 results, and then multiplied the number of reviews by the average rating to give an overall score. This overall score determines the place in the top 10.
The top-rated independent businesses
Without further ado, let’s reveal some of the greatest independent businesses that are making waves in their communities.
Ice cream shops
Winner: The Looking Glass Ice Cream Parlour
Secret of their success: Reviewers often mention the delicious flavours of their unique ice creams, the charming décor, and the friendly service.
“Wow! I have never experienced this much flavour in an ice cream before. The Maltesers flavour summed up the art of ice cream making for me. It looked right, it melted right and most importantly it tasted right.”
Fish and chip shops
Winner: Oban Fish and Chip Shop
Secret of their success: Fresh fish caught locally and delivered each morning from the South Pier in Oban, as well as a variety of other seafood options, including squid and squat lobsters.
“We had a delicious takeaway from here on Sunday and it was brilliant. Fish supper, scampi supper, mushy peas and some battered scallops to try. Wow. Everything was brilliant but the scallops in particular were fantastic and were cooked to perfection.”
Winner: Peggy May’s Café
Secret of their success: Reviewers often mention the quality of the homemade food and cakes, as well as the friendly atmosphere and warm welcome.
“One of the best lunches I have ever had! The bread was so delicious and fresh, and the scones were so fresh and warm from the oven. Super dog friendly too and the service was great. Will definitely be back!”
Winner: Sims Vintage Antiques Centre
Secret of their success: In their own words, Sims is “full of a fascinating array of antiques, collectables, memorabilia, curios & interiors”, and the owners “pride ourselves on offering a friendly and professional service to our dealers and customers alike”.
“My wife and I have been visiting this shop for several years now. it is probably my favourite of all the antique shops we frequent on a regular basis… Phil & Terri who own the centre couldn’t be any more friendly or helpful with us, we’ve also got to know several of the dealers who go out of their way to locate items for us. This really is the best centre for miles around. The site also has other shops to browse and a restaurant and farm shop. Pay them a visit you won’t be disappointed.”
Weirdly, two cinemas have tied for first place, so we have two winners to share:
Joint winner: The Red Carpet Cinema & Café Bar
Secret of their success: As the name suggests, this cinema offers brunch, lunch or dinner, as well as the movie experience.
“Seats very comfortable: picture and sound quality perfect. The meal afterwards, beer battered fish with chips and tartare sauce; I have only ever enjoyed fish and chips as much as this meal, when I have been at a seaside resort. The batter had just the right amount of crispness, the fish was the freshest I have had in a long while; and you could say, ‘chips are chips’ but at this restaurant chips are tasty morsels, well worth savouring slowly. Staff attentiveness and genuine pleasure in serving, couldn’t have been better.”
Joint winner: Tyneside Cinema
Secret of their success: This Grade II-listed building has recently been restored to its original 1937 art deco design, giving every cinema trip an added elegance.
“This place is utterly fantastic, the seats are so comfortable and they are constantly showing movies suitable for all ages. The large cinema basement has a proper vintage cinema feel, and the tiny cinema further up are more modern and just as nice. I’d recommend this movie theatre to anyone wanting a true cinema experience!”
Winner: Petruth Paddocks
Secret of their success: Their own words give a clear indication of why this charming site is so popular with campers: “Petruth Paddocks is a place where anyone can rock up and feel immediately at home. A live-and-let-live place where there are refreshingly few rules, kids can be kids, campfires are encouraged, music and bad singing are not a problem and people feel free to wander round making new friends.”
“Such a gem of a site close to Cheddar and easy walking distance to the gorge. Staff are super friendly and helpful. Toilets and showers are impeccable and the whole place has a nice family friendly and easy-going vibe. There’s an on-site coffee shack and pizza stand. Cheddar Ales pop up bar is 5 mins walk and also sells delicious pizza made to order. I couldn’t recommend Petruth Paddocks more highly. This was our 3rd visit and certainly won’t be our last.”
While it’s interesting to see which independent businesses are highly rated on TripAdvisor, we recognise that this kind of analysis only gives us a narrow view of the business. We have not verified these reviews or visited each business, so we take the TripAdvisor reviews and data in good faith.
Tide member case study
Nick Roberts, owner of Manchester Camper Hire
I started Manchester Camper Hire in 2012 to share my first campervan when I wasn’t using it myself. It quickly became apparent there was lots of demand for modern campervans, so I started to expand. As the family of vans has grown, I’ve tried really hard to retain the same personal and friendly service.
I like to keep things simple, so the vans I have are all very similar – modern VW T6 vans with a raising roof, a fridge, hob, heater and sink. One thing that people really love however, is the option to add our traditional Bell Tent awning which comes with its own wood-burning stove. Just because you’re going camping doesn’t mean you have to rough it!
The most important thing for me is to look after my customers. I genuinely want them to have a great time when they’re away in my vans, and people who have a good time will either come back themselves or tell their friends and family. I’ve only ever had 5 star reviews on Facebook (5/5), Google (4.8/5), and TripAdvisor (5/5), so customers must be liking the way I operate.
It’s fair to say that the journey since taking the business full time hasn’t been a straight one. But hey, no one likes those kind of roads anyway! Brexit, and of course COVID have certainly kept me on my toes. I wasn’t able to trade for about 12 months out of the past 18, but fortunately I hadn’t over-stretched myself financially. Now that tourism is getting going again, it’s nice to be popular…I just wish I had more vans to satisfy the demand. I’m fully booked every summer, so this year even more so!
One piece of advice I’d give to anyone starting a business is to try and be the best, not the cheapest. There will always be someone who can under-cut you, so instead know your worth, and focus on doing what you do as well as you can. For me that means having vans that are as new as possible, with good quality equipment, an easy-to-use booking system, and of course good customer service. Also, people like to deal with people, and that shows with the way customers review independent businesses. It’s great to be consistent, trustworthy, and professional, but if you lose that personal touch and start to treat customers differently, your customers might start to treat your business differently too.
A bright future for independent businesses
While the challenges surrounding Covid are likely to continue for some time, it’s clear that people are eager to get their lives back on track. And that means travel, seeing friends, going on adventures, starting hobbies, shopping, and immersing ourselves in culture.
As you can see from these winning businesses, customers appreciate the local, independent companies that provide great experiences, personalised service, and a connection to the local environment. As Covid restrictions are relaxed, Britain is likely to boom back to life with a renewed sense of purpose (and elasticated waists).
Ready for your own adventure? Register your company with Tide for FREE
From ice cream shops to cinemas – we have your finances covered.
And when you register your company with us, we’ll pay your Companies House incorporation fee for you.
You also get a free business bank account at the same time, so you can start taking care of your finance admin straight away. Start your own adventure today and register your company with Tide 🚀
Photo by Tim Douglas, published on Pexels