Innovation helps to retain diners

Operators revamping menus and interiors to keep offer fresh


OPERATORS who have changed their menus and broadened their food and drink are holding onto customers amid what continues to be a tough trading environment.

Speaking at a recent industry briefing, Peter Backman, managing director of foodservice consultancy Horizons, said the outlook for the foodservice industry is “at best one of limited growth, but more realistically one of no growth for the foreseeable future”.

Although sales have plateaued, there is a high degree of innovation which is keeping customers interested.

But he said the bar owners and restaurateurs who have introduced innovative new menus have retained diners during a tough trading period.
Sales of food and drink for out of home consumption experienced some growth in the first half of 2011, reaching £20.7 billion from £19.9bn the previous year, although Backman said this was largely accountable by the rise in inflation, the VAT hike and the impact of adverse weather the previous January.
“The foodservice market is still in the doldrums, foodservice share of food spend has dipped below 30% and although consumers are spending more money when they eat out they have cut down on the frequency of eating out occasions,” he said.
“This situation is likely to continue well into 2012 and beyond as the economic outlook is unlikely to improve, although I am confident this will start to grow in the longer term.
“Sales of food and beverage for out of home consumption have shown a rise since 2003 but that rise has now reached a plateau and if you take into account the impact of inflation, this represents a decline. The value of sales in the UK’s foodservice sector is currently £42bn – a figure that has remained the same in real terms since 2008.”
The harsh trading environment is, however, reckoned to have created gaps in the market for innovative operators and start-up companies.
Paul Backman, head of services at Horizons, said most of the new eating out concepts coming onto the market are quick service operations that merge contemporary styling and healthy food with a fast, fun and young feel.
Quick service Japanese and Mexican outlets are said to be performing particularly well.
“Despite the fact that foodservice sales overall have plateaued we are still seeing a high degree of innovation in the sector and this is helping to keep customers interested,” said Paul.
“Many of the large operators are keeping their offer fresh by changing their menus on a more frequent basis and revamping their interiors.
“Some are introducing designated areas in their restaurants, such as somewhere to sit if you want just a coffee or breakfast, somewhere to meet friends or hold a meeting – it’s all about tailoring your offer to meet whatever your customer needs at whatever time of day.”