Can independents thrive where chains fail to survive?
The decline of the big brands
We have watched many familiar names disappear from the high street in recent years. Woolworths stores disappeared 10 years ago, signalling the impact of the global financial crisis in the first tangible way for many. Many familiar names were to follow – BHS, and now Debenhams just a couple of closed or contracted department stores.
In the last couple of years, after a boom of rapid expansion, we are now seeing the closure and contraction of chains of restaurants. Byron, Carluccio’s and Gourmet Burger Kitchen are all seen as victims of the decline in the casual dining sector. Now the BBC reports on the closure of the Jamie’s Italian chain, lead by TV Chef Jamie Oliver.
It is widely recognised that these chains were inflexible in responding to consumer demand, and that they expanded too quickly. Many chains paid over the odds for rent on desirable sites. However, the other reasons for closure are those that are equally problematic for independent restaurants. High business rates, minimum wage increase and decreasing foot fall on the high street. These affect everyone.
The struggle for independent restaurants
In fact independent restaurants – without large private investment and economies of scale – have been facing a much more hostile climate than the chains for over a decade. However, their ability to be flexible and to adapt to their marketplace has, in many cases, been what saves them. I discussed this last week in my blog about customer loyalty.
Retail certainly appears to be in serious decline as our urban centres become places where we can find entertainment, spend our leisure time and treat ourselves. It seems that shopping is no longer an activity of choice, because you can do it online – people want to find things to do.
And this is where the small business can adapt. In dining out, people are looking for theatre. Food is not just fuel, but entertainment as well. Of course, this has to be done within reason. The surge towards healthy food and away from conspicuous indulgence shows this. You can’t just throw all the dessert in a glass and call it a Freakshake any more.
But present good quality, locally sourced food in an interesting way. Find an exciting global flavour profile. Offer great options for sharer dishes to make food more sociable. Right now, you seem to be on to a winner.
Most importantly, independent restaurants are not reliant on faceless central kitchens. Generally, their dishes are cooked with care and quality on the premises. And consumers are beginning to be able to taste that.
Plant based offerings show no sign of being in decline, as many people choose a flexitarian lifestyle. And it’s not all about the food. We are seeing more and more entertainment venues with food options on offer. Urban crazy golf and bowling options and, inexplicably, ‘pub installs dartboard’ making headlines.
Where are your favourite places to eat out – what makes them special?