Speaking at MCA and Restaurant magazine’s Generation Next event last week, Fleet said the current trading environment made expansion difficult, but said expansion outside London was important to prove the concept, and that the closures also presented opportunities.
She said the simplicity of Flat Iron’s concept, and wide appeal of steak and chips, made venturing to the regions less daunting, with a target of three of four new openings a year.
Speaking at the event, attended by early stage operators, Fleet said: “It’s such a difficult environment. You’ve got to be very careful picking the right sites is crucial. Moving out of London is a big step which you’ve got to get right.
“Everyone likes steak and chips, so it’s quite easy to go somewhere and say, this is what we are. It’s very obvious. As long as you’re focused on your quality and team, I don’t think there’s a number you can put on it.”
On the challenges in casual dining, she continued: “Some businesses that aren’t doing so well at the moment, you have got to ask, are they serving amazing food and amazing service? That’s a matter of opinion, but if you don’t have those, there’s too many good places to go and eat.
“I don’t think getting to open 100-200 restaurants is anyone’s ambition anymore. At ASK and Zizzi I joined at five and left at 250. That’s not going to happen anymore.”
Asked about Flat Iron’s model, which sells steak and salad for £11, Fleet said: “The margins are obviously different from pizza. Our big focus is on footfall, we want to be constantly increasing like for likes. Our gross profit does matter but because we’ve got volume that’s the key thing.”
Working with private equity
Fleet also spoke about private equity, and Piper’s role in backing Flat Iron: “It has to be a partnership. If they have different views to yours than I think the company goes in different directions.
“Historically private equity was always about how many restaurants can you open, how quickly can you do it.
“Sometimes when you’re in PE they don’t realise opening a restaurant is pretty damn difficult. It’s not just opening the doors. All the things that go wrong do go wrong.
“If you’re going from 5 to 10 in a year, you’re doubling in size. If you lose the feeling and the people, and start haemorrhaging important people like general managers and head chefs, then it’s hard to get back on track.”
Generation Next is a club for the rising stars in hospitality. For more information on how to join contact email@example.com