Are branded chains hindering our independent restaurants?

The  Staff Canteen
Friday night. 7.30pm. You’re both ravenous and haven’t got to be at the pub to meet the others until 9pm. Do you try the nice, new independent restaurant all your high-flying work friends have been boasting about? Or do you stick with chain restaurants and what you know? Chain restaurants have been growing rapidly in numbers over the last decade, and it seems that we as consumers can’t escape from the all-too familiar Italian and Mexican restaurant brands on our high streets. kimberley-hurdIn a recent poll, Zomato, the online and mobile restaurant search tool service, discovered that four in ten adults consider themselves foodies, whilst 40% tended to eat at a chain restaurant just because it was conveniently located. Kimberly Hurd, CEO at Zomato UK, said, “While people think the only convenient option is to go to a chain restaurant, they’d be surprised how easy it is to find a new or independent restaurant around them – which is more fulfilling. It’s not just chain restaurants that should spring to mind any more, as many of us prefer to experiment with new local places that open in our area and not compromise on our choices.” According to Allegra’s latest research ‘Project Restaurant 2013’, branded full service restaurants are set to grow 6.3% to £4.3 billion by 2018. With currently 245 Prezzo’s in operation and 477 Pizza Express restaurants open across the world, eating out is more popular than ever and does not appear to be a fleeting trend. So is there room in the industry for both independent and chain restaurants to survive? Giraffe, the restaurant chain boasting fresh world cuisine, is still viewed by Operations Director Tom Crowley as independent in many ways, despite being acquired by Tesco in 2013: “I still feel as if it’s an independent restaurant now even though we’ve got 60 restaurants and that’s important. “If the guests want something new, innovative and different, the independents will strike first, whereas corporate companies will tend to follow.”Tom Tom makes it clear that giraffe encourage people to be themselves and embrace their quirks whilst dining and working for them: “One of the things that makes giraffe stand out from other chains is the ability for people just to be themselves. We’ve got people with tattoos and ear piercings and strange haircuts, and that’s important that they express themselves as individuals in giraffe.” “One of our critical things in giraffe is have fun and to make our guests smile, because if you have, you’ve done a great job today.” But most importantly, Tom highlights the direct impact that independent restaurants have on chain organisations; “I think giraffe in its heart is a business where the world view is critical. We still take a lot of our influences from around the world. We always go to independents looking for new ideas just to understand what’s going on. Independents set the pace and I think that’s critical.” © Giles Christopher - Media Wisdom Photography LtdHe continues: “Innovation is where an independent restaurant will always win over a bigger branded restaurant chain, because doing something different will keep on attracting both guests and investment. Ultimately most independents are doing it for a love of the business, and the bigger business gets, the harder it is to innovate.” Tom also discusses the issue of branding: “Some independents struggle if customers don’t quite know what they are, what they stand for and what they’re going to get. “I think it’s an important part of the industry to have independents, but what does that really mean? A brand is a very loose word these days. A brand could be one of two restaurants or it could be a hundred restaurants. When does it become a chain restaurant? How many have you got to have?” Dan Doherty, executive chef at the successful independent restaurant Duck and Waffle in London, dan-dohertysupports this notion: “I think we need to understand the terminology a bit better. People think if it’s a bad restaurant, it’s part of a chain, and if it’s good, it’s part of a group of restaurants which isn’t really fair. I think a chain is a higher number of restaurants that are identical to one another and formulaic in their business plan and style, whilst a group is a collection of restaurants who are a little bit more quirky and free.” Insurance firm Simply Business states that between 2013-2014, there were a quarter more independent food stores, and the largest growth in food businesses has been London with 20% of the new independent shops located in the city. Dojo, an app for iPhone and Android users was launched in August 2014, designed by Londoners for Londoners to help find the trendiest eateries in the capital. idea-genCo-founder Devran Karaca, 24, described the inspiration behind the app: “Dojo came out of our frustration in London. It would be very difficult to find something a little bit unique and quirky to do with our friends. I think everyone knows about chains, you see them on the streets all the time, they’re a proven business model. When we spoke to people in the 20-30 age bracket, it was independents that they wanted to know about.” The response to the app has been very high, with tens of thousands of people using it. Devran and his team set out to create an app that can be used on a daily basis. He said: “We tell you how far away the restaurant is, which tube station its nearest to, what time it’s open and tips about what you should order there.”Nick Dart, Robin Shimmin and Devran Karaca - credit to Standard.co.uk Devran is keen to support independents through the app: “For them, it’s free advertising. Independents don’t have a lot of money to spend on marketing so it’s great. “There’s always going to be space for chains, because with a chain, you know what you’re getting; you will always find tourists going to chains because they don’t really know where to go when they go to a new city.” “It’s very very simple to use.” Outside of London, Russell Brown, Michelin-star chef at Sienna Dorset in Dorchester, is a perfect example of a chef setting the pace in the independent sector: “I think anybody who makes the decision to open a restaurant and makes a success of it, has got to have a huge amount of passion untitled-3295and drive behind them, and that’s got to be good for the customers”. Sienna Dorset was opened by Russell in 2003 and awarded the Michelin-star at the beginning of the recession in 2010. Russell said: “We perceive ourselves as being very different to the brands. We’re a different offer, quality level and price bracket but everywhere is competition. Our menu is about seasonality, good-quality produce and good-quality cooking.” Russell is very clear on his ideal restaurant scenario: “More independent restaurants will give you diversity and make the dining scene nowhere near as homogenous.” Russell believes there is still room for both sectors of the industry however: “Chain restaurants vary in quality from branch to branch. If you find a good one, the food can be very enjoyable and of a good standard.”untitled-2234 With regards to the industry as a whole, Russell believes there is a market for both independent and chain restaurants: “I’m hopeful to see high streets full of vibrant, successful independent restaurants who are using local producers, but that might be an unrealistic and romantic view.” It’s probably safe to say there’s a foodie in all of us, desperate to try the new independent Italian around the corner. But as a culture, it’s likely that we’ll stick with a Big Mac when we’re on the go. By Molly Mileham-Chappell
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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 20th February 2015

Are branded chains hindering our independent restaurants?