London's restaurant explosion - has a food boom put the capital on par with New York and Paris?

posted on 12/09/2013 14:21:31 by Dan O'Sullivan

Falling prices and new restaurants are fuelling a boom in London's food sector

Burgers have been beefed up as part of London's food revolution

Going out for a meal is nothing new, but in many respects it's considered a rare treat - an indulgence that isn't always as affordable or convenient as most of us would like.

That's the view you'd expect people to have on the back of a recession, anyway, and it's a reasonable assumption given the financial position many households find themselves in.

However, according to the 2014 Zagat London Restaurant Survey, such thinking couldn't be further from the truth - eating out has never been more popular in the capital, so much so that the city is now on par with the likes of New York and Paris when it comes to cheap and cheerful gourmet dining.

Food for thought

Tim Zagat, the face behind the company which conducted the report, revealed that a number of factors can explain the trend. As Tim says, there has recently been a decline in the cost of going out for dinner in London, and the city's residents are responding by increasingly looking for good food without fussing about the need for fancy décor and traditional dress codes.

You don't have to look far for evidence of this - the average cost of a meal in the capital has dropped by 14% in the past two years, and typical restaurant-goers are now stepping out to eat a record 3.7 times a week, up from 2.2 in 2012. But what's prompting the turnaround?

Reinventing the burger

One of the most recognisable features of London's so-called food revolution is that of the gourmet burger. Whereas in the past burgers were simply meat that was grilled and then stuck in a bun, now they're a work of art - all sorts of sides and special features designed to inspire the taste buds have been added, with various chesses and garnishes available to spice things up.

In addition to the affordable yet impressive food on offer, another way in which certain venues are helping to boost London's dining credentials is through the use of a surprising yet clever marketing technique - refusing to take reservations

The great thing about this is that while the burger now represents a substantial meal rather than a convenient fast-food snack, it still costs way below the average £37.35 per head that people spend when dining out in the capital.

Zagat's figures put the typical price of eating at Gourmet Burger Kitchen at around £18, while Byron will set you back £20 and MEATliquor is closer to £23.

What restaurants like this have done brilliantly is taken a popular product, given it an upgrade and kept it relatively affordable in comparison to the rest of the industry. Their success indicates that the ploy is working a treat.

Licence to grill

A similar principle has been followed by the likes of Bodean's and Pitt Cue Co - indoor barbecue grills that focus more on food and atmosphere than upmarket surroundings or traditional dining.

The former is considered an American sports bar as well as a restaurant, while the latter has benefitted from a huge demand among customers. Again, the key is that eating at either of these establishments is relatively cheap, and the quality of their menu ensures people keep coming back.

Creating the buzz

In addition to the affordable yet impressive food on offer, another way in which certain venues are helping to boost London's dining credentials is through the use of a surprising yet clever marketing technique - refusing to take reservations.

While in some respects this frustrates consumers, on the other side of the coin it helps to create a buzz and anticipation that only intensifies as news of a restaurant's quality begins to spread. The likes of Pitt Cue Co and MEATliquor often have people queuing out the doors for two hours at a time, and it's an inconvenience diners are willing to tolerate as they wait for a chance to see what all the fuss is about.

Ultimately, London's food sector has benefitted from an approach that other sectors could do well to emulate - namely putting time and effort into creating an affordable product that offers something slightly different to the status quo.

If you can find the appropriate market and strike the right chords, this tactic is one that can prove extremely profitable; just ask any of the microbreweries that have helped to lead a resurgence in hand-crafted beer - they'll tell you a similar story. 

Image credit: Silver Diner

Dan O'Sullivan

Dan O’Sullivan is Make It Cheaper's Web Content Manager, which means much of his time is dedicated to ensuring we have plenty of online material to help business owners understand the energy, insurance and telecoms industries. With years of experience working alongside SMEs, Dan is committed to making life as easy as possible for smaller firms. You can email Dan at dan.osullivan@makeitcheaper.com

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