To explore the challenges and opportunities in launching restaurants, we headed to Hoxton pizzeria Radio Alice, and sampled the perspectives of three guest speakers.
Over freshly-served slices in the recently opened Radio Alice pizzeria, on Tuesday 23rd May we came together to examine the issues at play when launching a restaurant.
From managing operations to establishing design and visual identity, we examined the challenges facing operators as they build their business, and learned how they’ve been addressed and overcome. We invited three seasoned speakers to join us.
First, we heard from Matt Utber, founder of creative agency, The Plant. Matt and his team have helped clients including Jamie Oliver, EAT and Four Seasons design and launch restaurant concepts. Matt's brought his experience to a personal venture too, setting up his own cycling cafe called The Dynamo. Dishing out Australian-inspired breakfasts and sourdough pizzas to hungry cyclists in Putney, the cafe also acts as an events space, screening races and hosting speaker events. And in partnership with Swiss road bicycle racing team, Katusha, The Dynamo also sells cycling kit in store. As Matt prepares to launch a second site in Balham, he shared what he’s learnt from his client work, and how he’s applied it to his own eatery.
Adding a landlord’s perspective was Sarah Fox, Head of Restaurants and Leisure at Hammerson. Owners of iconic retail destinations including the Bullring, Brent Cross and most recently, the UK's largest Restaurant and Leisure Development at West Quay in Southampton. Hammerson’s malls are home to restaurants including Franco Manca, Red Dog Saloon, Zizzi and The Diner. Sarah explained how Hammerson curates its restaurant offerings to cater local tastes, and shared insights into what diners want from restaurants in retail environments.
Also sharing was Emma King, co-founder of GAIL’s Bakery and our hosts Radio Alice. Serving up light sourdough pizzas topped with seasonal ingredients, Radio Alice began life in Bologna as Berberè. It was founded by Matteo and Salvatore Aloe and now has five locations across Italy, offering a contemporary new take on the iconic Italian staple. Emma explained how she teamed up with the brothers to bring Bolognese pizza to London, and described how her time at the helm of GAIL’s has influenced this latest project.
Here's what we learned.
Finding your niche
Launching a restaurant is about finding a niche market. Having worked with big chains, Sarah believes this is a lesson they need to learn in order to stay competitive: “good independents don’t close," she said.
From Dynamo's beginnings, Matt and his partners sought to create a space for the cycling community, a home for them and their bikes. A clearly-defined focus helped them carve out their own niche in the restaurant market. Similarly, Emma explains how the saturated pizza industry called for a restaurant able to offer something new. Using ancient baking techniques born in Bologna, Radio Alice's crisp sourdough pizzas are lighter than the Neapolitan recipes popular in London.
As more of our lives move into the digital world, going out for food is becoming an increasingly important way to spend time with friends and family. But different diners have very different demands. Once you've found your niche, quality branding is vital in guaranteeing the success of your business.
Just like the Italian pirate radio station after which the restaurant is named, Radio Alice wants to be recognised for doing things differently through to the finest details. “Your story should be told through everything, it helps consumers to understand who you are,” Emma explained. “We have a two page document on brand value, as a reminder of who we are and what we are." From its location to the food on offer, the document enables her to check that every aspect of the restaurant reflects these values, to create a consistent, convincing brand.
Because it is so crucial, the panel agreed that choosing the right place for a restaurant is a difficult process. "Location is so important," affirmed Sarah.
To tackle the task of choosing a location, the team at Dynamo drew a ‘cycle map’. By spotlighting areas where people cycle most often – whether for work or pleasure – the team were able to determine the most suitable location for the restaurant and chose its site on Putney Bridge Road.
Yet of course, any location can come with an element of risk. Putney Bridge Road has recently seen a number of failed restaurants, and Radio Alice's location at back Hoxton Square meant the team had to be much more proactive to gain publicity at launch.
Once you've chosen the right location, you have to make the space functional and exciting. As Sarah explained, equipping Hammerson's retail developments with facilities like parking and phone-charging ports make it as easy as possible for people to spend time there.
“If you care about staff, they’ll care about your business,” Sarah said. From members of the design team through to employees in the restaurant itself, good service is largely affected by the employees.
Teamwork is important, agreed Matt, who encouraged lots of discussion, collaboration and pin-up meetings. This way, everyone on the team is able contribute and make use of their expertise.
This commitment to staff should follow through into the restaurant itself, where a passion for food and the right training help give diners a great experience. The team “should all be in love with [the idea]," Matt said, "they have to care about it.”
To ensure their largely-British team were passionate about the business, they were taken to Italy for training at Radio Alice’s partner restaurants, Berberè.
Lastly, we learned the importance of making mistakes. Matt explained that despite their success, the team have made mistakes throughout the journey – like making deadlines too tight, or hiring the wrong people.
Negative feedback is an opportunity to learn, agreed Emma. Whether its a complaint from a customer, or a bad review from a critic, its important to be aware of what feedback is constructive, and what is not. And in turn, acting on constructive feedback can help your restaurant excel.
Location:16 Hoxton Square,
London, N1 6NT,
Start:23rd May, 2017 at 6:00pm
End:23rd May, 2017 at 8:30pm