Despite the challenges of Brexit and increasing business rates and food prices, now might just be the perfect time to open up an independent restaurant. With our high streets looking increasingly homogenous as large chains muscle their way in, many customers are desperate for more intimate, individual-feeling places to eat locally. And things are not going swimmingly for the larger franchises that have multiplied across towns and cities everywhere.
As this article explains, several of the big casual dining chains are struggling and having to close down branches across the country. The reasons for this are fairly straightforward: chains incur huge upfront costs which make profits difficult to achieve across multiple sites; there is a temptation to expand too quickly, which dilutes the brand; the quality of food and service suffer as profit margins are squeezed in order to maximise returns for investors, and this in turn damages the reputation of the restaurants; brands can’t maintain the feeling of a small, distinctive place that appealed to their customers in the first place, and replicating this across several sites damages the credibility of this image.
As the larger chains grapple with a mixture of external forces and the fact that the original element that made them great has been watered down in a bid to expand, independent restaurant owners are winning out. In the words of one restauranteur we have worked with for over 20 years, ‘The restaurant industry is on a steady downward slope towards reality.’ Maybe being small really does make sense.
Not only do independent owners get to choose the menu, decor and branding, they have full control over the direction of their venture. They are not governed by strict rules on what can and can’t be done, and they can develop a real rapport with local customers and visitors alike. We’re not saying it’s easy – there are definite challenges to owning your own restaurant business. But it feels like the tide is turning in favour of smaller enterprises.
Here’s what you need in order to succeed as an independent restaurant or cafe:
- Great food and great service. There is no substitute and you should aim for nothing less
- Stand out from the crowd by developing a clear initial concept. Focus on what you do, and do it brilliantly
- Get marketing. Whichever social media or newsprint advertising you choose, keep your brand message coherent and relevant. Offer customers a solution to a problem. Show them how you can help them and why they should eat in your venue
- Create a beautiful interior. Hire professional restaurant interior designers who understand the demands on a space and who know how to make any venue work. Tempt customers inside, and make sure they are happy and comfortable once in the space.
- Ensure your brand voice is conveyed through your food, interior design, external signage, staff and marketing
With the right approach and plenty of hard work, your independent restaurant can thrive in a tough market. And on a local level you can even outperform the big boys.