Food critic Charles Campion has warned of the arrival of a three-year ‘restaurant recession’ with mid-market restaurants set to take the biggest hit.
Speaking on the issue of the credit crunch at a panel debate at The Restaurant Show in London earlier this week, Campion said: “The established restaurants will go on doing it as they’ve always done, and the people at the bottom serving meals for four quid will be ok. It’s the people in the middle ground - people charging more than they should for not very good grub – where the trouble will be.”
With the economic slowdown at the forefront of everyone’s minds, it was, unsurprisingly, one of the biggest issues of the debate.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom, however, with many of the panel, who included food writers Jill Dupleix, Jay Rayner and Rose Prince, Searcy’s 1847 Chief Executive Duncan Ackery and Acorn House Executive Head Chef Arthur Potts-Dawson, giving their advice on how restaurateurs can survive it.
Ackery said value would be “key, particularly at the back end of 2009”
He said: “Our job as restaurateurs is to add value when we can by adding little bits round the edge to make people feel good about parting with their money.
“We are in very troubled times and if we don’t look it in the eye we are going to be dead in the water. The business model has changed and we have to be more responsive.”
Dupleix said the impact was yet to hit the industry and wouldn’t do so until “people start losing their jobs in vast numbers.”
She advised restaurateurs to get creative and not be tempted to cut costs. “It’s not just about buying cheap food,” she said: “Develop closer relationships with suppliers and go back to the skill base of old, like using whole carcasses.”
BigHospitality caught up with some of the chefs appearing at the show to find out how their businesses are faring and their top tips for riding out the economic slowdown.
Jun Tanaka, Executive Chef at Pearl restaurant in London
How’s business?: “It’s definitely quieter, but I’m not particularly worried about it. The important thing is that we make money and we do. As long as the bottom line is healthy then we’ll be ok.”
How we`re staying afloat: “Doing TV work always helps in times when people are very careful about their money and thinking carefully about where they are going to spend it. It’s important to have good PR so that when they do make a decision to eat out, you are visible in their minds. Some chefs would say you don’t need to promote yourself if the food’s good, but I don’t think it’s enough to just let the food speak for itself.”
Anthony Demetre, Chef/owner Arbutus and Wild Honey in London
How’s business?: “It sounds as if we (Demetre and business partner, Will Smith) were crystal ball-gazing, but we didn’t know there was going to be a credit crunch in 2005 when we came up with the concept for Arbutus. We haven’t put our prices up and we work incredibly hard to keep making money. We still have very busy restaurants and are doing about 2,000 covers a week in both."
How we`re staying afloat: “Lots of suppliers have jumped on the bandwagon and have introduced high price rises. Because of our position, we have got the strength to be able to say we can’t buy from you any more. We haven’t put our prices up. We have just had to work harder.”
Claude Bosi, Chef/owner of Hibiscus in London
How’s business?: "We’ve found it difficult yes and no. Lunch is a bit slower than we were expecting, I don’t know why, but it’s been rubbish. And we find that even if we do a good number at lunch people stop spending on wine and are careful where they spend their money."
How we`re staying afloat: "I don’t want to push them to spend, I mean we’ve got a good lunch menu for £25 and we use that as advertising a bit, and afterwards if they want to go for the a la carte they go for it, but we need the people sitting at the table and try not worry about how much they spend. Our lunch for £25 has always been the same, even since Ludlow, and you still give a challenge to the chef as you still have to make money off of £25. Its easy to use foie gras and truffle if you like that but when you’ve got a small business and you still have to make money, you have to work a bit harder."
Giorgio Locatelli, Chef/owner of Locanda Locatelli in London
How’s business?: “We are up in numbers and our figures for September show we are up in takings on last year.”
How we`re staying afloat: “By providing quality and keeping control of my kitchen. I take my hat off to those guys who can open lots of restaurants, but I don’t want to do that.”