How thriving restaurants do things differently

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Woman eating in restaurant

A topic that I understand well since the launch of Kolibri, is that the dining out industry is changing massively, and that more of the casual dining chains that used to be on every high street are closing down every day. But the bigger chains have started to learn from some of their mistakes and recognised what the smaller independents have always known, that the menus and experience have to keep up with changing consumer needs and keep innovating.  

GoKart, a London Based food-tech company released a report that surveyed 2,000 UK adults, aiming to discover people’s perceptions towards larger food chains as opposed to their local high-street independent sellers. The research discovered that 53% of UK Brits around the country prefer to eat out at independent establishments over a well-named chain restaurant.

The research also uncovered that 50% of Brits surveyed are worried about the loss of their local high-street businesses, against multi-national competitors. This is a valid worry; however, I have seen many examples where restaurants can thrive and survive because they know what their customers really want.

How do the successful restaurants continue to grow?

Many small groups of restaurants like Dishoom and Pizza Pilgrims focus on locations that are different from each other and will work with their local consumers. The founder of Patty and Bun has a similar stance: “From the outset, we always looked to open a handful of gems, each with their own personality.” says Grossman. “The cookie cutter approach has never appealed to me. We’re not a chain; we’re a big independent.” Of course, the independents that are thriving are in tune with ‘locals’ and their unique and immersive establishments reflect the way consumers prefer to dine out. They offer unique menus alongside trendy and fashionable interiors that specifically target the younger, ‘Instagram’ market and continue to follow the ever-changing trends of the consumer needs. 

Comtrex recently reported about the growth of the independent dining sector businesses on their website: “Not all big brands have seen reduced or slowed levels of expansion. Nando’s and Wagamama are two very well-known chains that have bucked the trend and continue to grow at impressive rates. However, for most of the bigger brands, this is simply not the case. Instead, the space in the market that they have created is being filled by small and medium-sized brands.”

As some big brands continue to grow, smaller establishments are stepping up their game, filling the gaps in the market where the larger, named brands are choosing to play it safe with their choices, potentially losing out to the businesses willing to take a risk with their concepts. As I have mentioned in my book, Bespoke.World: “If your restaurant is currently offering similar menu choices to other restaurants on the high street, if it has the same look and feels as any other chain in the country, you won’t be special or unique enough to stand out from the crowd.”

Restaurant atmosphere

How will this affect the dining sector?

The casual dining market is one that is forever changing, and something I have to deal with on a regular basis since the launch of my range of customisable drinks. But there are other aspects of the industry that are affecting the way restaurants and establishments have to evolve to keep up.

Brexit, for example, will have an effect on growth. Many of the larger brands have pulled back their plans to open more venues or evolve their current eateries. The talk of Brexit has also had an effect on the consumers eating at these establishments, who are now choosing to support their local establishments for the risk of losing them. All of this being said, there is a glaringly obvious reason as to why small restaurants will continue to thrive in the ever-changing world of the dining industry, and that is customisation and experience.

“Those dining businesses that are exploring new concepts are proving especially popular. In the UK, the concentration of new concepts is especially high in London – this also happens to be the location where the growth levels for bigger brands are the most significantly reduced.” Comtrex reports.

To put it simply, the brands that are exploring new avenues, are willing to break the boundaries and follow ever-changing trends and concepts to create a unique experience, are those that are thriving. Consumers are demanding more of the venues they eat at and the option of choice and the demand for something unforgettable is something many consumers are now expecting when dining out.


What does this mean for customisation?

Customisation options within the smaller chain and independent eateries are already rife and are something that will continue to grow as trends change and unique, local establishments continue to open. Larger brands will need to change their game plans to keep up with the diverse offerings of the busy London market.

“A lack of evolution by some of the larger brands has left them looking out of date and unappealing to consumers who are keen for innovation and creativity in casual dining, something the small and medium-sized brands tend to excel at.” Says Comtrex.

The ultimate takeaway from this is that customisation is key and some of these big brands which have been suffering should look at their competitors who are busy trying new pop-ups in food halls (eg Yo! Sushi) or smaller venues offering vegan or street food (Wagamama, Wahaca). In fact, Mark Selby, the co-founder of Mexican food chain Wahaca, said restaurants need to give customers "unique moments and experiences" to survive. I couldn’t put it better myself and when creating the concept behind Kolibri, I knew that the customisation trend based on unique experiences would be a popular avenue for a long time and one that fits in nicely with the market’s demands.