With many neighbourhood restaurants struggling to survive, Tony Naylor looks at ways to help independents thrive, from crowdfunding to posting on social media.
This has been a terrible year for British restaurants. Soaring business and food costs and a drop in how regularly people eat out has left an oversaturated market floundering. Last year, insolvencies were up 20 per cent, and, according to financial experts Begbies Traynor, around 11,000 restaurants are now in ‘significant’ financial distress.
The headline victims of this have been national chains such as Byron, Jamie’s Italian and Carluccio’s, whose closures and rescue deals have been hot news. But our independent restaurants are battling similar pressures. This year, a number of acclaimed local heroes, such as the Michelin-listed Deeson’s in Canterbury (‘Passion, unfortunately, does not pay the bills’) and Harrogate’s Norse, have closed. More closures will follow, particularly if we don’t do our bit. In theory, we all crave high-street diversity and flourishing independents, but how proactive are we in encouraging that?
Here are 10 ways to support your local indies:
1. Routine loyalty
Its chain rival may be more convenient, but diverting for two minutes on your daily commute may well help that amazing indie coffee shop survive.
2. Trust fund
When cosy neighbourhood joints start demanding your card details to secure a booking, it can feel odd, irritating, offensive. Don’t take it personally. No-shows are at epidemic levels. Deposits are now a vital financial insurance for restaurants.
3. Never assume
Outside London, hip and Michelin-starred venues suffer from a perception problem. People assume they’re fully booked months in advance and, consequently, don’t visit as often as they might. Midweek, even the hottest restaurants have tables free.
4. Voucher codes
Don’t be bought off by offers and vouchers from the chains. The comparative local indie may cost a few pounds more, but, if you can afford to use it, do. The money you spend there is far more likely to stay in the local economy.
5. Limited edition
That passion project run by two food and drink nuts may have a small wine list and lack the flashy interior of its big-budget rivals, but which has the better food or the greater character? Embrace those limitations.
6. Open minds
From lesser meat cuts to obscure Portuguese wines, the best independents find ingenious ways to offer you the most flavour for the least money. But that requires you to trust them, rather than cleaving to familiar drinks and safe dishes.
7. Party planning
Many restaurants have under-utilised spaces they hire out, often informally for birthdays and wedding anniversaries etc. They tend to be very flexible on costs and menus. Could your next party be a buffet upstairs at your fave neighbourhood restaurant?
8. Get social
Bigging up the indies you love to friends and colleagues, and on Insta, Twitter and Facebook, is vital. They can’t afford PR and advertising. We are their marketing team.
9. Investment opportunity
Crowdfunding is a great alternative source of capital for restaurant start-ups. Essentially, the best schemes sell meals upfront to raise funds. If your town lacks great independents, is it time to put your money on the table?
10. Delivery orders
Nationally, spending on food for delivery is growing at a far faster rate than spending in restaurants. Many small indies are ill-equipped to enter this market. Always try to order from indies (note: if you can pick it up, a significant minority of restaurants will put a takeaway together for you as a one-off – do ask!), but, better still, eat out. Use your local indies before it’s too late.
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Tony Naylor writes for Restaurant magazine and The Guardian.