|Festive restaurant round-up – 'value' remains a keyword|
|Written by Carol Emmas|
|Thursday, 03 January 2013 14:12|
The restaurant business was polarised 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". He noticed across the festive season that there was less drinking at lunchtime, but its 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." He added that consumers could get a table in most top restaurants at short notice in the run up to Christmas, even though they ended up being full on the day.
Jessen believes the trend of polarisation 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 that 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, it's "2011/2012 like-for-likes were up over 30%.", However, he added: "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," he said.
Barber said there was no noticeable cutting back on spending across the festive season. But 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."
The year 2012 for Barber has been all about the arrival of niche concepts like Pitt Cue and Meat Liquor, 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," he said.
He added: "There's definitely a trend towards great food combined with a bit of entertainment, colour, excitement, an interesting back story and value, value, value. 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 bookings 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 week's 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."