Many operators are now narrowing down their menus.
One of the biggest restaurant trends in London’s restaurant market is the rejection of a wide-ranging menu in favour of a narrow range of dishes.
Whereas previously, restaurants competed to offer variety, selling dishes covering numerous styles and cuisines, now many operators are now narrowing down their menus: narrowing not merely to one style, but often to one key dish or even ingredient.
Here we explain this trend, describing its benefits to restaurateurs and restaurant property owners and answering the question as to whether we should expect this restaurant trend to continue.
First, we should take a look at the brands that most obviously embody the current trend.
One restaurant concept that has won a lot of attention is Bubbledogs. Their fun branding perfectly reflects the cheekiness of the concept. Neighbours to Saatchi & Saatchi on Fitzroy Street, Fitzrovia’s post-work diners have their choice restricted to cheap gourmet hotdogs (around £7 a dog) and slightly dearer champagne (£35 a bottle).
The result is a self-effacing champagne bar: a bubbly bar for people who would genuinely enjoy the exclusivity of a full-on suits-and-cork-popping bar but are happy to temper the toffishness with a cheap porcine parcel in hand.
Mark Hix’s Tramshed concept was self-described in appropriately brief words on his website: “it’s chicken or steak to share.” Tramshed is a different kind of specialist pairing. At around £45 all in, Hix’s concept delivers high-quality meat, cooked to perfection.
Like Tramshed, Beast takes its lead from two high-end, high-cost ingredients: Norwegian king crab and Nebraskan Angus beef. This is a high-end dining concept that lives and dies by its ability to be the best in London at cooking these fabulous, costly ingredients.
Beast made two excellent videos explaining the sourcing of their two-star ingredients. You can find them here.
It speaks volumes that the first wave of these brands opened in the wake of the economic crash of 2008 when diners’ wallets were wedged firmly shut.
Thankfully, it now feels a distant memory, but it was just a few years ago that many of the capital’s restaurants were in dire straits with reduced hours and closures common. It is against this backdrop at the turn of the decade that ultra-specialist brands like Bubbledogs and Tramshed were started.
The benefits to specialisation are as simple as the restaurants’ concepts. By paring down the menu, executive chefs and managers can cut costs all over their operations. Here is one example.
A focus of this trend is that restaurants use the same key ingredients in every dish. This makes it much less likely that produce will be wasted. A menu of 25 dishes may see achingly expensive seafood wasted every day if it isn’t popular on the night. But it is unlikely that Beast ever have to throw away too many of their very high-cost expensive king crabs because half of their dishes are crab dishes.
By focussing on one or two premium dishes, specialist pairing allows chefs to continue offering luxury dining experiences during hard financial times by lowering risk and costs.
Another benefit is that with all their focus on two or three key ingredients, these chefs can form strong relationships with their chosen suppliers. This is a big deal because it cashes in on another big trend among millennial diners. Millennials care much more about knowing where their food is sourced than for example, knowing it is, low in fat, and specialist pairings allow this close bond between supplier and chef.
Burger and Lobster do a fantastic job of communicating this relationship to their customers, going to lengths to demonstrate their bond with their Nova Scotian Lobster fishermen. This is a specialist pairing brand so confident in their concept that they have no menu and simply let the name do the talking.
Given these clear benefits, it’s tempting to think that we can expect to see fewer and fewer dishes on London’s future menus. But is that really the case?
Our London restaurant property experts see no reason for the trend to end soon. As we have written, London’s restaurant market is extremely competitive, with cuisines from all corners of the globe represented.
What this means is that it makes less and less sense for restaurants to try and capture business by offering a wide range of dishes.
Previously, customers were impressed by being able to choose from different styles at the same table. Today we are in a city where walking 20 yards down the street will reveal four new styles of restaurant. Variety is already convenient enough without one restaurant being able to offer it as a USP.
This is the crux of the trend’s success. And since variety in the London market is in no danger of dwindling soon (the market is set to expand to 56bn by 2019), there is no danger of the benefits of specialist pairings being undermined.
At Restaurant Property we understand the unique needs of both restaurateurs and restaurant landlords in London. We know that London’s specialist pairing concepts need the right location and property to thrive. We list only the best leisure property openings in the London.
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