I do feel very privileged to be on the council of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers with some amazing people, all of whom are there working for the good of the industry. Kate Nicholls’ work on rates alone resulted in some very hard-hitting headlines that should make the government sit up and listen.
One London operator told me recently that the cost liabilities about to hit his business this year would wipe 15% off his Ebitda and the majority of this impact was due to his rates increases. There has been a strong sense of complete powerlessness and despair from both multi-site and independent operators in the face of the rates onslaught increase. Kate and the team have been outstanding, I think, in acting decisively, logically and powerfully to combat this. Whatever the challenge the industry faces, Kate is always there representing the sector to government – and this is one of the biggest challenges facing us this year. Her determination gives me great cause for optimism.
There was more optimism when the January figures from the Peach Coffer Tracker were positive (albeit of course January performance can be very volatile). Restaurant groups were up 3.3% on last January, on a like-for-like basis, while pub group sales were ahead a more modest 1.0% across the board. This is reflective of the operator sentiment I am picking up. I met with Christian Rose from All Star Lanes and he (and probably others in the sector) have had a brilliant quarter too. Whilst one swallow doesn’t make a summer (or whatever the expression) better to start the calendar year with a positive performance, than spend the rest of the year trying to recover from a poor one.
Individuals always give me a great sense of joy and positivity. People in this sector are particularly awesome at being optimistic and actually doing stuff to improve the situation rather than sitting round feeling sorry for themselves. One of the most brilliant people I know is Jeremy Roberts and I really admire the work he is doing on the late Tim Bacon’s charity. I met Jonathan Arana-Morton, founder of The Breakfast Club recently and was blown away by the story of the brand’s beginnings and growth. Having queued for an hour-and-a-quarter to get into Southwark Breakfast Club for breakfast, I know exactly what the appeal is and why it’s worth it. James Horler (Ego), Scott Munro (Red’s True Barbecue), Marc Francis-Baum (Barworks), Scott Matthews (CG Restaurants), Lucinda Woods (The Restaurant Group), Cassandra Stavrou (Proper Corn), Allister Richards (Gather & Gather) and Neil Macgeorge (Punch) have all inspired me in the past few weeks – bright, engaging leaders with fantastic ideas and huge determination. I have learnt something from each of them.
I have also seen some outstanding places that have given me great hope for this year including Corazon in Soho, Franco Manca (good, but not as good as Pizza Union), Singer near Finsbury Square, The Tokenhouse in Moorgate, and The Lighterman in Granary Square. I haven’t had any bad meals or experienced poor service anywhere in the past few weeks. Food quality has been high too and value for money (not low price) has been obvious. There are some fantastic new independents in operation led by outstanding entrepreneurs that I hope are not squeezed out by rate rises and high input costs in the months ahead. They have great cause for optimism – it’s there if they look for it.