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Festive restaurant round-up

Published:  03 January, 2013

The restaurant business was polarized into being very busy, or not, both over the festive season and throughout 2012, with good service and value being rewarded, according to Soren Jessen, owner of 1 Lombard Street and 1776.

The restaurant business was polarized into being very busy, or not, both over the festive season and throughout 2012, with good service and value being rewarded, according to Soren Jessen, owner of 1 Lombard Street and 1776.

Jessen said its Christmas business did well but the Christmas buzz started later than usual with November "a bit disappointing" but December "good". Jessen noticed across the festive season that there was less drinking at lunchtime, but evening business was strong.

"The restaurant business is in general polarised. It's either very busy or not. We happen to be busy but a lot of places seem empty. You can get a table in most top restaurants at short notice even though we end up being full on the day," he said.

Jessen thinks the trend of polarization will continue throughout 2013 and it will be another tough year for the trade but one were good service and good value is rewarded. He added in 2012: "The Queen's Jubilee and the Olympics resulted in very bad months for most quality restaurants as people tended to favour fast food."

Jamie Barber one of the co-founders of Cabana Brasil which has three restaurants at Westfield Stratford, St Giles and Westfield London, said: "For me, it's not about how much you make in the first three weeks of December, it's how much you don't lose between Christmas Eve and January 9."

"We opened Cabana in November 2011 and so this December, we gained from Cabana being much better known, and from the maturity of the Westfield Stratford centre. Our like for likes were up over 30%."

Barber said there was no noticeable cutting back on spending across the festive season. However, he added: "Symptomatic of a post-Lehman's world, people don't spend several hundred pounds on a bottle of wine any more. Even if they can afford it, many think it looks vulgar."

In general terms Barber said: "Party bookings aside, I think that people are now so used to going out to restaurants that there isn't the massive surge in December that there was several years ago. Autumn trade is generally pretty good."

The year 2012 for Barber has been all about the arrival of niche concepts like Pittcue and Meatliquor which he said have arrived out of relative obscurity to capture the imagination. "Single item menus are the fashion but popularity may wane over time . It's another year that has underscored the death of fine dining. There's definitely a trend towards great food combined with a bit of entertainment, colour, excitement, an interesting back story and value, value, value," he said.

He added: "Cabana fits this perfectly and this is why we are excited by our potential to grow."

Riding high on the back of the festive season is Sartoria on Savile Row. Graziano Arricale, general manager, said: "We had a fantastic festive season with the restaurant being busier than last year, which was also a very good year. Going into the festive season we noticed a lot of pessimism but we were quietly confident that we would do well as we could see the book building from September/October. "

With regard to trends and what people were buying or cutting back on Arricale, said: "We found that people spent but were a lot more aware of where they were spending their money. We found wine spends were good but a lot more thought and tasting went into the selections for the large events and diners at the table were willing to spend where they saw value. Likewise with our food offer we ensured that there was a good range of price points and a very good value set menu which enable people to spend when they wished to without being pressured."

As for any Christmas rush, he said he found the "big rush" came a bit later this year. "Usually we really kick into a high gear from the very beginning of December all the way through. This year it started a week later but was much busier once it got going. The calendar helped also with Christmas Eve being on a Monday it meant we had a full weeks trading just before."

Unlike Jessen, Arricale, said the 2012 Olympics were good for Sartoria : "I think 2012 has been a very good year for us. 2011 was a great year and we are ahead year-on-year. The Olympics was also a very busy time. We can see 2013 being another good year with our core business growing and after the advert to the world that was the hugely successful Olympics we can see great things for London in the year to come."

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