Something’s eating all our chain restaurants.
This is most evident in the UK and the US, where the appetite for chains has been dwindling fast. More than 600 chain restaurants closed in the US in 2018, with commentators describing it as a “restaurant apocalypse”. Strada, Carluccio’s, Prezzo, Byron and Café Rouge are just some of the major chains that have closed dozens of their outlets in the UK over the last couple of years. Most recently, the Boporan Restaurant Group announced that it would close a third of its Giraffe and Ed’s Diner branches, and Jamie Oliver’s restaurant empire entered administration. Today only three Jamie’s Italian outlets remain—all at Gatwick Airport.
The casual dining picture is somewhat different across the rest of Europe, but that’s because the rest of Europe was never as obsessed with chains. In France and Spain, restaurant chains are comparatively absent. The reasons for this may be cultural or economic or a combination of the two. Italy—frequently hailed home of the best food money can buy—is dominated by local, independent, family-run trattorias rather than chains. Germany, too, is a country that has long favoured independent eateries.
Tastes have changed
The declining importance of chains is because diners’ tastes have changed, particularly among millennials. People are more discerning and are constantly looking for something new or different. There is an increased desire for ‘artisan’ or ‘speciality’ concepts and preferences for healthier and less processed foods. Veganism, too, is booming. Meat, fish, dairy and eggs have disappeared from some menus altogether, replaced by increasingly innovative reimaginings of plant-based ingredients.
Diners don’t just want their food to be more interesting, healthier or animal-free. They also want it faster or at home, on the sofa, in front of Netflix. According to Zion Market Research, fast food and takeaway outlets dominated the European market in 2018 and are expected to grow at the fastest rate between 2018 and 2024. This is owing to rapid urbanisation, the increasing working women population, millennials’ comfort with ordering online and the rapid rise of apps like Just Eat and Deliveroo.
A 2018 report by Springboard and the NPD Group also revealed that while eating dinner out has declined, eating breakfast out had grown significantly. This has caused many operators to introduce a credible coffee range to maintain customer loyalty.
Another important factor in the decline of chains is that diners are no longer putting up with bad service or poor-quality food. The closure of the Jamie’s Italian outlets has been blamed as much on their ratings on TripAdvisor as it has on changing preferences and the rise of food delivery services. Bad reviews and concerns over the quality of ingredients have increased across other restaurant chains as well, leading consumers to seek out different options.
How is this affecting the kitchens & catering equipment market?
In the UK particularly, a degree of uncertainty about the state of the catering equipment market is understandable. With so many chain restaurants disappearing, not to mention continuing uncertainty over Brexit, the future is definitely in flux.
However, the foodservice industry as a whole is not declining—it’s changing. And according to Zion Market Research, the UK is in fact the fastest-growing segment of the Europe foodservice equipment market. That means the impact of the chain restaurant decline on equipment providers is being offset by growth in other areas.
Fast food outlets, artisan bakeries and speciality coffee shops are on the rise and proving a key growth area for equipment sales. Operators are looking to improve efficiency in their restaurants and provide diners with more options through the implementation of new technology and layouts. Furnishing choosy diners with the quality of service they expect means using better, more reliable solutions for cooking, food storage, serving, warewashing and other functions.
We’re also seeing an increase in ‘dark kitchens’, i.e. commercial kitchens dedicated to serving online takeaway orders only. These often employ more modern and efficient technology than that found in most restaurants and are another key growth area for equipment providers to harness.
A further opportunity lies in the rising awareness of sustainability, particularly among millennials, which is forcing restaurants to implement sustainable and environmentally friendly practices. This means a greater need for equipment that reduces food waste and energy consumption as well as reusable or biodegradable tableware and container solutions.
Better service starts with the equipment provider
A restaurant’s ability to deliver the level of service today’s customers demand depends first and foremost on its equipment. If a coffee machine breaks, it can’t serve coffee and diners will go somewhere else (and probably not come back).
The problem is that although equipment businesses are under increasing pressure to make sure their customers’ equipment is reliably maintained, many are shackled by a lack of operational efficiency. Their service management system is hampered by errors and delays caused by slow, paper-driven processes, minimal visibility and scant integration and mobility.