By Marc Ford MBA

I wrote this piece 12 months ago to the day…and with the current situation slowly easing, it as relevant today as it was 12 months ago…

As national newspapers, media outlets and the wider public look on at the demise of Jamie Oliver’s restaurant chain, there feels like there is a burning question. Why?
How can one of the ‘nations favourite chefs’ end up mothballing a restaurant business when he’s a millionaire? Well there are many, many reasons, but oddly there in an article written by the BBC, one of the biggest problems is summed up perfectly.

In the last few years, private equity firms and the people controlling them have driven rapid growth of chain restaurants up an down the UK. Not the consumer. According to data firm CGA, they estimate that the number of group restaurants in the UK increased by almost 30% to 5,785 in the five years to March 2019. Right there shows you an unsustainable growth on a high street that is widely spoken about as dying on it’s arse.

Yet the thing that really struck me in the report were the comments of a staff member that showed the chain had lost it’s way. From being heralded as a pioneering venture “with the intention of positively disrupting mid-market dining in the high street in the UK, with great value and much higher quality ingredients, best in class animal welfare standards and an amazing team”, to collapsing with poor reviews, no-one turning up, too many Groupon style offers, poor quality and expensive food, it’s a massive fall from grace. With plenty of people blaming Jamie himself, perhaps the entirety of that blame is unfair best.

With his name above the door, perhaps the story should be reflecting the fact that when something gets too big, too quick, there is a danger that quality, service and innovation are all threatened. And it would be fair to say that it happened here. Having watched and followed Mr Oliver for many years, I don’t doubt his intentions at the start of his restaurant venture. In fact the connected potential closure of the 15 Restaurant, where he gave apprenticeships to aspiring chefs, is truly a shame and was an idea ahead of it’s time. But the underlying issues remained that it grew too fast without the care and attention of the original man in charge. The ethos, the vision and the philosophy all got lost in the quest to make money. A business built on quality and innovation without quality or innovation is not even a business.

As people pick over the remains of what’s happened here, I’ve even heard the words being uttered that the businesses that are closing are quite simply ‘franchises’. But the gold standard of franchising, McDonalds, shows time and time again, that it can innovate, change and be a market leader. I know it sounds like madness to compare an Italian eatery to a burger joint, but you get the same burger in Lands End as you do in John-a-Groats. Constantly changing their menu’s to attract new customers, but retaining their existing ones. Wether we like it or not, they offer the same value, the same service and the same quality no matter what. Year after year.

So beware of growing too quickly. Are we ready for it? And more importantly are you ready for it? Can you provide the same quality of service or product, time after time in an ever changing business environment? Can you consistently show your USP and remain attractive to new customers whilst retaining the old ones?

If the answer is ‘no’ to any of these, then my friend, you’re not ready to grow just yet. Be the ‘Naked Chef’ and not the ‘Stripped of all it’s Assets Chef

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