Who's the food mogul sitting at the top table?
Market leaders pick their market leader;
Wednesday 29 September 1999
I HAVE a kind of philanthropic view of what we do at Pizza Express. The Pizza Express culture means that people who were pot washers some years ago are now in senior posts, masters of their trade. I find that aspect of the business extremely gratifying. It is important to be honest with your staff and for your staff to be honest with you, otherwise so much time is wasted; if you foul up, it's important to admit it and move on. If you take the whole thing too seriously and focus too much on failure, your world is liable to cave in as every day brings factors which could cause problems. But it is important to realise, in all levels of the restaurant trade, that you can always do better; it is important to do more than just cope. Increased competition keeps us on our toes.
I admire anyone who aims to serve the customer, and serve the customer well. Julian Metcalfe, chairman of Pret a Manger, has done wonders within the market he chose to serve. Chez Gerard is also a company I admire: they do what they do well. Ultimately if you're a success, it's thanks to your staff.
THE RESTAURANT sector is an extremely exciting and dynamic one. At the moment it is growing at high speed. To stand out you have to maintain a high standard of service and of food. You have to have a passion for the food, the customer service and the environment you create in your restaurants. In order to keep the business working, you need determination and consistency and a strong belief in the development of your staff. I think Pret a Manger and Pizza Express are both successfully running businesses based on quality food in closely targeted markets. Both businesses consistently deliver what they promise: quality products. Then of course there is Terence Conran who brought a new focus on image and design to the market. He raised the profile of restaurants in London to a new level.
Passion for Food Group
IN THE restaurant business, food and quality of service are what count. People are impressed by what the restaurant looks like for the first few visits but by that time, it is the food they are coming for. Pizza Express proves this point. We also are interested in delivering the highest standards of food and as a result one of our restaurant chains, Pizza Piazza, is currently changing to Pizza Organic. We're not out to prove a political point, we're just out to deliver good food. Pret a Manger is similar as all their products are labelled chemical-free.
As restaurateurs we are dealing in people's enjoyment and excitement; it is important to meet their expectations and to aim to exceed them. As a service industry we are tied to the public purse but it's important to stick with it through thick and thin.
For sheer ability, I admire Luke Johnson, now chairman of Belgo Group; he worked wonders with Pizza Express. Roger Myers stands out for me too. He started up Cafe Rouge. It is important to be innovative and always thinking ahead. You've can't just stick with the field, you've got to be leading it.
Operational director for restaurants, Bass
I LOOK after all sorts of different chains for our group: Harvester, Browns, Vintage Inns for example, all very different and I enjoy the variety of challenges that throws up. But what I really enjoy is seeing our people succeed. I am afraid I am a bit of a bad loser, so competing and winning is what I am about. It is a satisfying industry because, unlike manufacturing, you are given instant feedback: if the customers aren't happy, they complain and they don't come back.
It's important to be enthusiastic and have the energy to inspire your staff, and you have to have the humility to realise that you don't actually know everything. One man who encapsulates this is Julian Metcalfe of Pret a Manger: I love his principles, his heart and his passion for what he does.
City Centre Restaurants
I AM frantically busy on a daily basis trying to liaise with all our operators; we own a range of mid-spend restaurants such as Garfunkels, Wok Wok and Cafe Uno. The restaurant industry is very much the fashion industry, it is all about keeping up to date. It's important to be willing to explore new avenues and it is of paramount importance to have your staff behind you.
I've been impressed by Peter Dickson, chairman of Yates' Wine Lodges, because he took an old fashioned family business, turned it around, and made a success of it. I would also pick out Julian Metcalfe, of Pret a Manger, for identifying a niche in the market and going for it.
I THINK it is a shame that the large restaurant culture of the past few years puts less emphasis on the customers. With our string of restaurants including Carravagio and Il Convivio in London, we try to look after our customers. It is impossible for me to do it single-handedly, so I have to instil the importance of "front of house" into our staff. If the restaurant is buzzing, the customers are more likely to return. I find it difficult to delegate, but it is important to let staff put their own stamp on each restaurant. I admire the dedicated in our industry: Marco Pierre White puts in the hours and runs his restaurants with the "my way or no way" attitude. [Terence] Conran took a big risk with his restaurants and it paid off. Whether I agree with what he does is irrelevant; I admire his consummate business skills.
OURS IS a creative business the essence of which is the execution of an original idea. We find an interesting building, we imagine what it could become and then watch that idea come to fruition. It is a very exciting process and I enjoy working with the different people who help it come together - the architects, designers and so on.
I love the instant gratification that a restaurant can give: your customers are either happy or they aren't, and they will tell you. It is of fundamental importance to maintain consistency in standards, gimmicks are no longer enough. People no longer come to Belgo to see waiters in funny uniforms, they come because we serve good food and a wide range of Belgian beer. I know people like to knock [Terence] Conran but he really has reversed people's perception of London food. He has established new standards.
I TRAINED as a chef and waiter before I swapped the kitchen for the suit and I regard that experience as standing me in good stead now looking after chains like Cafe Rouge, Dome and Bella Pasta. It is critical that whoever is in charge understands restaurants at every level. You also have to be creative and bold in your view as that will have a knock-on effect on your staff. If your staff are enthusiastic, the customer will pick up on it and enjoy coming back. I admire Jeremy Mogford who started up Browns, where he is now non-executive chairman. He invested time and commitment in getting Browns right; he had an eye for buildings and an empathy for the space of a restaurant. Similarly, I admire other smaller concerns run by families who quietly get on with their cooking.
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