Combined with owners more willing to take on smaller outlets with limited kitchen space, the restrictions on consumers is leading to a breed of ultra-specialist restaurant brands and concepts with a more restricted offer.
Recent additions in London include Spud, a luxury baked potato café in Covent Garden, and Meatballs, which has opened on the site of the former Quality Chop House in Farringdon.
As their names suggest, both concepts serve just one style of food with a tight menu – Meatballs sells around five different styles along with a selection of salads while Spud serves just nine different varieties of jacket potatoes and filling.
Diners can then mix and match ingredients and build their own meals based on the ingredients available.
Meatballs is run by Hugh Fowler, managing director of Covent Garden Restaurants, who opened it last month with his wife as an independent venture. The concept offers a small, value-for-money menu, to encourage lunch and evening diners who want a more simple bite to eat.
“Times are changing and so are people’s eating habits, with consumers still wanting to eat out but on a restricted budget,” says Fowler. “The menu is simple and it’s also great value for money with our portions starting at £3.95 for three balls.”
Brands with a more focused offer have grown in popularity in recent years as increasingly busy consumers shy away from long, dish-heavy menus.
The fast casual dining arena in particular, which often has a strong lunchtime trade, has been a particular exponent of the move.
Mexican chains such as Manchester-based Barburrito and US brand Chipotle, which entered the London market last year, offer a limited menu of typically just four mains, with a choice of chicken, beef, pork or vegetable fillings.
Players such as Indian roti cafe Moolis, sausage specialist brand Herman ze German and those serving Vietnamese bahn mi sandwiches, such as Kêu! in London’s Shoreditch, are also thriving by having a focused offer.
Independent restaurants and chains are also tapping into consumer demand for a more simple approach when dining out. Burgeoning hamburger chain Byron, which is part of the Gondola Group, offers just six different burgers and serves wines under the simple ‘good’, ‘better’, ‘great’ and ‘best’ menu descriptors.
This month Satsuma restaurant, part of the Royal China Group, will re-launch as a specialist Japanese Katsu curry restaurant.
Like the Meatballs and Mexican concepts, diners can build their own curries with a choice of different meats, fish or vegetables.