Please put a restaurant visit on your 2019 menu of things to do
- Credit: Archant
Use them or lose them in 2019, says Andy Newman after another bad year in the restaurant industry
Go into pretty much any eatery at this time of year and you could be forgiven for thinking that the restaurant trade is a licence to print money. Table upon table of Christmas revellers give the impression that 'fully booked' is the default position for any decent dining establishment, and that profits must be soaring.
Sadly, this is very far from the truth. In 2018, across the UK an average of more than three restaurants a day have gone bust, according to a new report from London accountancy firm Moore Stephens. Each one of those insolvencies has put its staff out of work, its suppliers out of pocket, and shattered the dreams and probably the savings of its owners.
For the first time, those figures include a significant number of chain restaurants, with well-known names such as Prezzo, Carluccios, Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Chimichanga all shutting multiple branches.
I don't want to understate the impact of these corporate closures. Although the shareholder pain tends to be felt by large corporations which can take it, each such closure also impacts on the ordinary staff members who find themselves out of work; when you are made redundant, it doesn't really matter whether it's by a chain or an independent, the end result is pretty much the same.
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That said, we should be more concerned when our locally-owned, independent eateries are threatened. For a start, these establishments are far more likely to use local suppliers, so any closure will have a more profound effect on Norfolk's economy.
But just as importantly, as customers we suffer disproportionately when an independent restaurant closes, because it has a much greater effect on the diversity and quality of our choice of where to eat.
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As diners, we have become absurdly fickle. We happily flock to the latest opening or pop-up, trying to keep up with the latest social media fad, and briefly making pretty much any new restaurant an instant success, whatever the quality or value it offers.
However, with our miniscule attention spans, very soon something else new comes onto our radar, and we move on; customer loyalty is largely becoming a thing of the past.
And then we are somehow surprised when our old favourites close down, not because they have done anything wrong, but because we are slaves to the latest fad. But we shouldn't really complain, because it is our own behaviour as customers which is causing this merry-go-round of openings and closures in the restaurant world.
No matter how successful or long-established, pretty much any restaurant is never more than a couple of lean months away from going bust. This is particularly true for individual, independent establishments, because they don't have the deep pockets that many of the corporations behind chains have, to tide them through the quieter times of year.
The pre-Christmas bonanza successfully hides the problem for a few weeks, but it is a real case of feast and famine: January and February are the times when most restaurants will go to the wall, facing row upon row of empty tables as we fall out of the habit of dining out. By the time spring comes along and we feel like venturing out to eat again, our choice of where to go is significantly reduced.
So here is a suggestion for a New Year's resolution. Given that January is traditionally the most depressing month, why not pledge to return to a well-established, locally-owned independent restaurant once or twice (or more) once the Festive period is over.
It will help lift the misery of the darkest month, and you are sure receive a very warm welcome and excellent service from restaurateurs who will be especially happy to see you. Given the situation not just in Norfolk but across the country, if you don't do this, we are very likely to see more familiar names disappearing during 2019. Never before has it been more a case of 'use it or lose it'