Every day this week we’ll be revealing two of the top 10 stories or topics of this year, alongside specialist commentary from some of those involved in helping put the news out there.
We’ve enlisted the help of some of the hospitality industry’s top PR executives to give their views on why these stories and the subjects they approach were of such high interest among our readers.
In this article we look at this year's rising trend in chicken restaurants following high interest in our story about how Soho House, operator of luxury hotels, private members' clubs and restaurants, decided to open Chicken Shop, a restaurant specialising in rotisserie chicken.
We also examine the evolution of pub food after stories showing how pubs have overtaken restaurants as the place where the majority of customers choose to dine proved a hot topic.
BigHospitality's Top 10 most-read stories countdown:
When Soho House's Nick Jones announced the company's latest 'concept' would be a restaurant serving only rotisserie chicken as its main course it confirmed to the industry and diners that 2012 was definitely chicken's year. In the year that chicken supremo Nando's also turned a healthy profit, there were several announcements of new and existing operators, such as Cass Titcombe (ex-Canteen), Gideon Joffe (MonkeyNuts) and Charles Harris launching their own concepts (Roost, Chooks and Flat Chicken). The fact that these stories were high up in the most-read list also confirms that the industry and diners were hungry to find out more about chicken.
Comment from Michelle Diederichs, Koyah PR:
As someone who lives in a London borough with three KFCs, a multitude of Chicken Cottages and a large, popular Nandos - the recent chicken craze doesn’t personally excite me.
However, most of us love a trend and the latest rise in popularity of gourmet chicken appears to be superseding the previous success of burgers, which proved a hugely popular concept for cash strapped diners. Add to that the backing of an influential and successful chef like Mark Hix and it’s bound to generate interest.
According to consumer research by Horizons, when it comes to choosing where to eat out, food quality is the most common important factor with price the second most common important factor (Horizons Quickbite report, July 2012). The recession has led diners to take fewer risks when eating out, instead preferring to dine at places they’ve eaten at before or where they are reassured by reputation. In this respect, Nandos has benefitted from its long-standing on the high street and popularity among influential, young people.
With food prices continuing to rise and red meat becoming even less affordable, operators are looking for solutions to help differentiate and add value to their menus. Chicken, the cheapest and most accessible meat was perhaps the obvious choice for satisfying the meat-loving diner.
Operators such as Nandos, Byron and Hix have taken a relatively basic concept and built a business and reputation for consistency and good taste. It’s no surprise that so many others have followed their lead and have been keen to get a bite of the action.
In its Quickbite survey published in July, research company Horizon's not only found that people were eating out more often than they had in the previous year, but they were also choosing to do so in pubs. This story confirmed what many people, including Good Food Guide editor Elizabeth Carter, had been thinking for a while and that was that pubs in general have come a long way in the culinary world since the days of offering chicken or scampi and chips in a basket. The fact that CGA Strategy's report found that consumers are spending twice as much on food in pubs as they are in restaurants put some strong figures against these thoughts and no doubt diligent restaurant operators and publicans were both interested in the rest of its findings.
Comment from Ros Shiel, Shiel Porter:
I more or less stopped going to restaurants when my children were little and I’ve never really got back into the habit, even though they can now be trusted not to smash the glassware or smear sticky fingers over the white tablecloths. Why would I, when a short walk or drive will take us to a number of pubs where the food is just as good as any restaurant’s and the informal atmosphere better suited to our ‘can’t be bothered to cook’ dining occasion? What’s more, you can get a decent beer before - or even with - your meal.
Clearly, this wholesale switch from restaurants to pubs is one that many readers, on both sides of the serving hatch, will have identified with. If I were a chef now, I’d be looking at pubs rather than restaurants for my future. And indeed, Brakspear has welcomed a number of talented chefs to its estate, such as Ryan Simpson, who produces the best fish & chips in Oxfordshire at Orwells in Shiplake, and Michelin-starred Claude Bosi, whose Jolly Fine Restaurants group is opening the Malt House in Fulham, in February.
For operators, the fact that the growth in pub food is expected to continue for another five years is a massive opportunity that should deliver huge rewards to those that can get their offer right. I was also struck by those numbers on sales of starters and desserts. I’ll bet these are lower than in restaurants and while customers undoubtedly eat fewer courses in pubs, some of the difference must also be down to the pub’s ability to sell up – or lack of it.
As ever in this industry, it’s down to staff training and any retailer with an eye on the prize will surely be recruiting and developing people who can help them make the most of the nation’s continuing appetite for pub food.