The news this week is that Jamie Oliver’s Restaurant Group is going into administration and to be honest when I read this headline, it really upset me. Jamie Oliver is a good British success story. He grew up working in the family restaurant before going to college and becoming a world-famous chef in his own right. He has written a number of books, had his own TV shows and on top of that has supported good causes including the campaign to get junk food off school dinner menus.
This news is not a big shock in the industry as in 2018 they had to close a number of sites through a CVA agreement. In an Interview with the Financial Times in 2018, he shared how things had gotten so bad that he had to put in £7.5m of his own cash overnight to save the immediate closure of the entire chain.
From the outside, it would appear that he has the profile, knowledge and financial clout to make a success, so are there some specific lessons to be learnt?
The restaurant industry is extremely competitive, but the trends say that this sector is not on the decline, it is actually holding it’s own despite the decline of the High Street. However, the Office of National Statistics reported growth on the High Street as recent as March 2019 and eating out remains a preferable option to many people.
The first thing to remember is that we should never forget to do the basics right; If you are a restaurant, then you need to ensure that you serve great food and give your guests a great overall experience. Online feedback talks about mixed quality and mixed service. Whilst you can create something great in a single location, it is often difficult to replicate it. Sometimes trying to grow too fast is a cause of failure, it means you end up diluting your brand promise. As you try and grow quickly, you may end up becoming average and losing what made you special. The right thing to do here is to invest in creating systems, processes and ways of working that would make your success repeatable.
Getting a business up and running is only part of the journey, long term success will need some evolution and changes. Successful brands like Pizza Express, Ask and Prezzo will all change their menu’s from time to time. The success in the early years, some would even describe him as being a disruptor, would be linked to his profile and approach of only using quality ingredients.
This is a common challenge; to scale without losing what made you great originally. As you scale up, you need to take on more staff, operate in different locations and the feedback is that the restaurants have become a little plainer and may have lost their original sparkle.
In recent years he had opened some premium restaurants, which effectively sat outside the Jamie Oliver brand, Barbeco and Fifteen were different from the existing chain, but both are closed. It could be that in trying to be different brands, they were losing their focus and identity. Jon Knight, CEO, Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group eluded to this point in this comment;
‘We were opening too many restaurants, too quickly, in the wrong places. We were opening in places that weren’t university towns and didn’t have enough of a tourism element.’
I hope this does not mean the end for Jamie as a restaurateur. He has a profile and he would easily be able to create digital content that would generate interest in a new restaurant. He already has the books and TV shows, so maybe it’s a case of making more use of these assets? This is a must for most businesses today and speaking to Daniel Priestly, CEO of DENT Global on this specific issue he was very clear;
‘Personal brand is a massive fire-starter; it gets things going quickly, attracts talent and customers through the door. This initial energy has to be transferred into other assets as fast as possible though.’
Jamie Oliver definitely has a person brand that is interesting, he apparently still drives a Vesper and he is a good chef. There is no reason why this should be the end of him as a restaurateur, what he has to learn to do is take advantage of that profile and integrate it more closely into his restaurants. It could be that he needs to go back to the basics, and concentrate on a single restaurant, get in the kitchen for a bit and do what he is great at. Whatever he does next, I am sure people will get behind him, he just needs to decide if he wants to have another go or not?
‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts’. Winston Churchill.