A decade is a long time in the hospitality industry. But there are plenty of parallels to chew over between the state of UK restaurants at the end of the Noughties and how the £57bn sector is faring now.
In 2009, the Credit Crunch had forced the closure of a rising number of dining venues as punters kept their hands in their pockets. As 2019 dawns, there’s a similarly uncertain economic backdrop in the shape of Brexit (source: PwC).
Just as it did ten years ago, the internet is making it easy for people to seek the comfort of convenience, ordering online from myriad services such as Deliveroo and Hungry House. Hot food at home is only ever a few clicks away.
But nothing beats a memorable dining occasion. The top end of the market is booming. Almost a quarter more UK restaurants have Michelin stars bestowed on them now compared to 2010. Encouragingly, average consumer spend on eating out rose across nearly all age groups during 2018 according to MCA Restaurant Market Report.
We can take from this that Brits are still keen on the out-of-home meal experience. And that word “experience” is the key. In this report, Global serves up the four things your establishment must strive to be in 2019 to stay fully booked.
These are the hot trends to digest and bake into the way you welcome your guests. Get them right, and you’ll be dining out on success for years to come.
HOW TO BE MEMORABLE
We’re witnessing consumers craving new experiences, not something they can get at home, and they’ve got a taste for adventure. The more you can fuel their imaginations as well as their appetite, the more likely they’ll be to come back - and bring friends and family with them.
Part of the reason that people have started to fall out of love with lower-cost restaurant chains is that too many of them have similar offers. As we witness their decline, with the likes of Prezzo and Gourmet Burger Kitchen seriously downsizing (source: BBC News), cool new players are stealing their share. Indies rock: total revenues for local independent restaurants grew 3% in 2018 according to MCA.
Established players can take a leaf out of their book. Many restaurants leave it years before freshening up their offering. It’s vital to keep your vibe up to date if your loyal customers aren’t going to try the new kid on the block instead. The current climate is very much adapt or die.
That means reviewing your restaurant’s branding if you haven’t done so for a while. This is something the likes of Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) brand Miller & Carter has done well.
The group has lit a fire under its steakhouse proposition and is expanding the brand nationwide with a food-led, premium offering. It’s close to accounting for 10% of the whole M&B estate, which also includes the likes of Harvester, Toby Carvery, Browns and Ember Inns.
This is a good example of how to boost your restaurant’s brand. Find what you want to be known for and make certain everything from the decor to the atmosphere to your staff reflect what you stand for: the more adventurous the better. And that brings us on to knowing the mores of the market.
HOW TO BE RESPECTABLE
This has been the decade where diners dug for the detail. It’s no longer enough to list a few words on a menu and plonk down a plate in front of someone. Restaurants must now prove their ethical chops.
People are more aware than ever of their effect on the environment, and that extends to the brands they love and the places they visit.
Firstly, this means keeping a keen eye on and communicating provenance. Discerning diners want to know when produce is local and, if it isn’t, how far it has travelled to get to the table. Staff should be able to tell the customer how an animal was reared, where fish came from or whether any chemicals were used growing the seasonal veg.
The same goes for the rise of dietary trends, not least veganism. In the last decade, the number of vegans in the UK has risen more than 360% according to a survey by the Vegan Society. It’s crucial to cater to these new consumer groups and not eschew them.
Thanks to Sir David Attenborough, businesses across sectors are also scrutinising the sustainability of their supply chains. Customers expect a reduction of plastic in packaging and want every part of an ingredient to be used, with waste minimised and the carbon footprint reduced.
Take these issues seriously; ignore them at your peril. They’re important. A whopping two thirds of 25- to 34-year-olds want to buy food and drink that reflects their attitudes (source: Canadean).
So much the better if a meal tastes great. But the way to someone’s heart isn’t always through their stomach in this day and age. They want their conscience satisfied, too - from farm to fork.
Total revenues for local independent restaurants grew 3% in 2018 according to MCA
HOW TO BE SHAREABLE
Stimulation of the five senses now goes beyond being in the restaurant itself. The smells and tastes of a good meal, the hubbub of the dining area, the unique visual experience and the feel of a knife and fork are all vital.
More and more, though, food’s two-dimensional reach will be as important as the three-dimensional experience for keeping people coming through your doors. Diners are sharing pictures and details of their meals in droves, thanks to the immediate intimacy of social media platforms.
Instagram has been home to a foodie frenzy for a couple of years now. As of 2018, a fifth of Britons had begun to share at least one photo per month of their meal with their followers (source: The Guardian). Snapping snacks and posting them online is even becoming risky: according to Marie Claire, 6 million of us have dropped our phones in our food when taking a photo!
But the genie is out of the bottle. People aren’t going to be put off papping their plates. Chefs are adding curiosity to cuisine with creativity and colour – following a trend reported by retailers for customers to share photos of unusual fruit and veg such as purple carrots.
This year, we think Snapchat will take off as the food photo channel of choice. It’s another opportunity to refresh your restaurant’s marketing, and it’s bringing foodie love further into the mainstream.
Use Snapchat and Instagram to take control of communication. Tease customers with new menu items, take them behind the scenes for kitchen chatter and even offer discounts. Above all, be visual. Anything from a lush cappuccino to a startling starter works; gregarious gastronomy is no longer the preserve of premium eateries. Always remember to seek feedback.
Put simply, the photogenic qualities of food can place one restaurant above another on search rankings and in the minds of diners. Food that smells and tastes but also looks great will be talked about.
HOW TO BE DELIVERABLE
Where once deliveries might have seemed an obvious bonus to restaurants they are now an essential revenue stream. After all, 50% of dinners bought from restaurants are now delivered to people’s doors (source: Big Hospitality). We think that number will continue to grow as people opt to eat in the comfort of their own home.
As restaurants face rocketing rents and more people staying indoors, having a sturdy delivery service should be a given. But caterers must react more quickly to changing consumer habits as the souped-up technology of Uber Eats, Deliveroo and co replace the takeaway man-in-a-banger. Digital ordering during the past five years accounted for 53% of all delivery orders, up from 33% in 2013 [Bringg].
Clearly, external marketing needs to make delivery options front of mind in a crowded market. This is especially important to younger customers for whom regular takeaways are more affordable than repeat restaurant visits.
The trick is to work deliveries into your operations in a balanced way. No restaurant should be left short-staffed for waiters by over-cooking numbers in the takeaways team, with meals going cold and hungry diners checking their watches.
Of course, what takeaway delivers in terms of convenience and value can too often leave quality as the missing ingredient. This, again, is where the restaurant dining experience can come into its own.
We hope our four-course approach to delivering a great restaurant experience has given you some food for thought. It’s a tricky time for catering as latest sector revenues show the start of a downward trend for restaurants, offset by a gentle rise in pub and fast-food takings (source: MCA).
We’d love to speak to you about how we can help your business buck the trend over the coming months. And we’re keen for you to join the debate. What do you think will matter to customers in 2020?