With consumer confidence worsening and unemployment continuing to rise, the country’s 260,000 eating out establishments will, according to Horizons’ managing director Peter Backman, have to work even harder than last year to keep customers coming through the doors.
“Balance sheets have been stretched during 2011 and it will not take much to see the rate of failures rise, probably as early as the first quarter of 2012,” said Backman.
“High street restaurant operators will continue offering customers discounts, meal deals and money-off vouchers to improve traffic, which will depress their profit margins, although the anticipated fall in food costs this year will help counteract the cost of discounts.”
The Elephant restaurant
Simon Hulstone, head chef at The Elephant restaurant in Torquay, is one restaurateur who understands the challenges the industry faces this year.
“We’re introducing a number of initiatives to appeal to both new and loyal customers during the quieter months,” he said. “To showcase our new dishes, we’re launching a two-for-one offer on the tasting menu when the restaurant reopens mid-January which will run until the end of February, excluding Valentines’ Dinner and weekends.
“We’ll also be open on the last Sunday of every month to attract the families and specifically children. To create a bit of theatre, we’re introducing the Big Family Roast, which will offer tables of four or more a choice of joints which a chef will carve at their table.”
The Balti House Rishton restaurant
Hussain Rashid runs The Balti House Rishton restaurant in Lancashire with his brothers Harry, Mahfooz and Mahmoon.
“We’ve had a busy festive period but like any restaurant we need to keep customers coming through the door throughout the rest of the year,” said Hussain. “We anticipate 2012 to be a tough year so we’re looking at new ways to attract new customers and keep loyal customers coming.”
Restaurants that will suffer
Horizons also notes that consumer spending fell in 2009 and 2010 and that last year was even worse, with signs that the market fell in both nominal and real terms.
“The businesses that don’t embrace change are those that will suffer this year,” warned Backman. “But outlets that adapt to the demands of the new consumer by offering something different, focussing on good quality for a reasonable price, are those that will survive the year ready to focus on growth when consumer demand improves.”