Last week we attended the Global Restaurant Investment Forum in London, which was hosted at the exciting Tel Aviv restaurant, Bala Baya. The event series, which we’ve been sponsoring over the last year and had the privilege to speak at previously, is a brilliant opportunity to hear about the issues affecting our industry – particularly for investors and operators. Here’s some of the key take-outs from the event.

 

Market challenges for emerging groups

Firstly, the charismatic owners of fledgling Portugese street food concept, Growler, perfectly summed up the mood for many emerging brands. They talked on stage and then at length to us afterwards about the stark realities of the dilemma facing them about how to grow in an overly saturated casual dining market where it is increasingly difficult to balance declining consumer confidence, eating out spend and hospitality staff availability with increasing food costs, living wage and property prices.

Getting market and site selection right and alternative restaurant formats are both key considerations for brands like Growler, which is an area we’ve been helping our clients with in recent months, developing pop-up food concepts in multiple new formats from vintage vehicles to shipping containers, often at a fraction of the cost of bricks and mortar sites.

 

International opportunities

However, it was incredibly refreshing to hear from the founders of established founder brands like Pizza Pilgrims, Flat Iron and Kricket, who despite the doom and gloom surrounding the UK market (and the dreaded ‘B’ word, which I won’t utter here) were optimistic about their opportunities for growth and expansion.

Although perhaps what was most interesting was the fact that not one of them saw this opportunity being UK-based (beyond London and a few select major cities) or even perhaps in markets you would traditionally expect, such as Dubai. This was a sentiment that was echoed by investors Darrell Connell from Imbiba and Chris Miller from White Rabbit Fund, who implored operators to avoid the usual approoach of skipping over Europe and going straight to the Middle East, instead focusing on thriving markets like Amsterdam, Barcelona and Berlin.

This is a journey that many of our clients are now undertaking, such as Qbic Hotels; who are opening a new hotel in Brussels (Keane are currently working on their new Manchester hotel design), Brewdog; who have multiple European sites from Florence to Barcelona (we’ve just completed their latest global menu design, which is live in those venues) and a startup client who chose France rather than the UK to launch a new steak restaurant brand despite having lived and worked in the UK for 30+ years (Keane have developed this concept for them).

 

Sustainability and being one of the good guys

Perhaps the single biggest other takeout from the event was the sheer desire to do good more, particularly among the entrepreneurs and emerging groups, who are making huge strides to improve their practices and protocols in response to increasing consumer demand for positive change. Plastic-free, food miles, staff morale, mental health, plant-based cooking and animal welfare were all big topics.

Ben Chapman from Smoking Goat highlighted the environmental important of his policy of only sourcing meat from the UK (Cornwall to be exact) where welfare and farming techniques could be guaranteed. Gizzi Erskine (she of Jamie Oliver FoodTube fame) has launched plant-based burger concept F!LTH and talked passionately of the issues surrounding soil management and the need for the whole supply chain to be better reviewed by operators, with everyone taking responsibility for how the food ends up on the plate.

But we also heard from progressive founders like George Pitkeathley at Pilau who has launched the ‘Feed Yourself – Feed A Child’ scheme, giving a meal to children in India every time someone eats in their restaurant, as well as Thom Elliot from Pizza Pilgrims, who highlighted the importance of prioritising team member morale, benefits and mental health.

When discussing the much publicised industry issue of asking waiters to pay for no shows, he suggested sometimes it’s as simple as putting yourself in the mindset of a child (in his case, using his 6 year old as a sounding board) who’s decision-making won’t be clouded by standard or expected industry practices, but more so on the basis of whether something feels fundamentally right or wrong, on a very human level.

It was also incredibly interesting to hear about the brands in other industries taking the initiative and introducing their own policy on issues usually left to government to set legislation. Volvo were highlighted as a great example, having introduced a 6-month 80% paid parental leave for both parents. A bold and brilliant iniative, in my book.

 

Our other take-outs

Here are some of the other key talking points from the event: 

  1. Hospitality lifers no longer exist – operators are competing against each other for a shrinking pool of great people and it’s time the industry accepts that it is a stopgap for many on the way to their career, rather than a career choice.
  1. Recruitment needs to be focused on incentivising talent – the stark reality is that for any operator a great team member could walk out and get another job in hours, so training, incentives and “selling yourself” as founders and leaders is vital, as is thanking people for choosing you.
  1. Technological trend opportunities – it’s clear that there are some incredibly exciting technological advancements in the industry but it’s important to consider the more immediate evolution opportunities, rather than focusing on more unattainable revolution (Nestle’s DNA-based supplement programme that they are pioneering in Japan, for example!).
  1. McDonald’s making strides – the fast foot stalwart were highlighted as a business to watch with their recent touchscreen innovation and dynamic yield acquisition; the screens have increased the sales of trade-ups and add-ons significantly and their reactive Drive Thru displays can now bespoke menus by weather type, daypart, speed of serve, availability or personal.
  1. Food market model – this is a trend sweeping both the UK and most of Europe, with a recent study citing 350 food markets currently under construction. This offers a huge amount of opportunity for many operators and also some brilliant consumer benefits, but there is a risk that this could lead to saturation and sustainability issues

 

Thanks to the guys at GRIF again for putting on another informative and engaging event.