Ah yes. This is traditionally a busy time of year for restaurant property agents
Not that sort of restaurant sale. We’re talking about operators running special discounted menus and other January offers. Although this is by no means a new phenomenon, there are seemingly more deals to be had than ever this year as restaurants scramble to attract cash-strapped diners.
What sort of discounts are we talking about?
The levels of discount and mechanism vary. Gary Usher - the chef behind the North West’s Elite Bistros group - ditched set menus last year in a bid to tackle soaring inflation but is bringing them back for January offering two courses for £15 at non-peak times. London’s Little Kudu is hoping to woo diners by combining crowd-pleasing main courses - options include picanha steak with chips and red pepper relish and smoked peri peri mussels with chips - with a glass of wine for £20. Five-strong modern Chinese restaurant group Tattu is simply offering 30% off food throughout the whole of January. London-based Kricket, meanwhile, has lowered the prices of many of its menu items with Kricket co-founder Rik Campbell saying that he has looked to reduce the price of some of the three-strong modern Indian restaurant group’s most popular items by 5-10%. Its Taste of Kricket sharing menu has also gone from £45 to £40 per person. Offers from the bigger groups include Franco Manca, with many of its pizzas priced at just £7.50, PizzaExpress offering 50% of pizzas to it PizzaExpress Club members for the remainder of the month, and TGI Fridays, which is serving up £9.99 meal deals that include an endless refill drink.
What about pubs?
JD Wetherspoon is the sector’s most prolific deep discounter. This year it is offering pints for as little as £1.99, cocktails from £2.99 and unlimited coffee for £1.29. Prices on food are also being slashed, with burgers from £4.99 and any three small plate dishes - including nachos, chicken wings and ‘halloumi-style’ fries - for £12. Other big players in the pub and bar space are also getting in on the act. BrewDog is once again pulling in drinkers with heavily-discounted food, offering burgers and pizzas for £1 when bought alongside a full-priced main course after more than 47,000 people took advantage of the deal last year.
Are deals just for the casual dining sector?
Absolutely not. While many high-reaching places have ditched their more affordable set lunch and early evening menus in recent years many have brought them back for January. Deals that have caught our eye include London’s Caravel, which is offering three courses for £25; Mark Sargeant’s The Restaurant MS in Folkestone with it five courses for £35; and Phil Howard’s Michelin-starred Elystan Street in Chelsea, where three courses will set you back £35.
These offers might fill rooms, but will they actually make operators any money?
Larger players such as Wetherspoon can afford to take a hit on certain ‘loss leader’ products to bag headlines and potentially stimulate the sale of other, more profitable, products but in general smaller businesses can’t afford to do that. Sensible restaurant operators won’t be selling food at a loss, but they will probably be utilising more cost-effective ingredients and thinking carefully about labour. But in most cases, the margin will be lower than that of their regular menu.
These menus also drive drinks sales, which is where restaurants make the majority of their margin anyway...
In theory, yes. But one of the most painful things about this time of year for operators is that a lot of people are off the booze. Dry January launched in 2013 with around 4,000 people taking part but has grown exponentially since then with some 175,000 going sober for the month last year, according to its organisers. Anyone fancy a trip to Spoons?