I’m not a pretentious man, but I do hate it when restaurants chains try to imitate independents.
You may think rows of Bill’s, Comptoir Libanais and Las Iguanas have improved the culinary outlook of Britain’s high street, but in reality they have done little more than create a beige blueprint for our civic identity.
We once had these places confined to out of city locations in shopping centres or retail parks, but as we upgraded our Victorian arcades for modern eyesores – Leeds Trinity, Liverpool One, the Bull Ring in Birmingham – we have been left with a one-size-fits-all solution to our civic needs. If it houses one of three cinema chains, picks from a small catalogue of retail outlets and a familiar list of eateries too – it’s good with us.
The invasion is a concern on a number of levels. First of all, chain restaurants are fuelling our obesity epidemic. Gone are the days when McDonald’s and Burger King ruled the roost, their patch is now littered by gourmet equivalents. Mexican chains are abound, as are Spanish, Argentinian, French…. Italian.
Most concerning, for me, is the impact chain restaurants are having on the independent dining economy. As restaurant owner Joshua Khan points out in this article the increased prominence of major brands has made the market so saturated that there’s a danger of independents dying out, because in a competitive market, money talks.
But in certain parts of the country punters are voting with their feet. Today Jamie’s Italian announced that it is to close six of its outlets in Richmond, Tunbridge Wells, Exeter, Cheltenham, Aberdeen and Ludgate Circus. Bosses blamed the closures on the Brexit vote, which has been weighing on the business, and competition in the market. The reality, however, is that they are being forced to close in places where bad food doesn’t rub.
For all the bits of restaurant trickery Oliver’s cool-chic chain employs, the food is very average and incredibly samey. That might cut it in certain towns, but Richmond, for example, has almost twenty Italian eateries within spitting distance, and the lion’s share would eat Jamie’s offering up for breakfast.
Well, you know what I mean.
The point is that sticking feathers up your arse does not make you a chicken. Act like an independent all you like but Jamie’s struggling eateries are just a chain that is struggling to pull the wool over our eyes. Hopefully this marks the start of a domino effect.