Worrying Times

There are times when you leave a pub or restaurant and think “that was OK but I wouldn’t rush back”. It wasn’t bad enough to complain or leave a comment about but you wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

In fact, not only do you not return to that specific venue, you blank the brand altogether. That happened to me years ago in a Prezzo – I never went back. It happened to me in a Jamie’s – I only ever use the brand in airports. It happened in a Beefeater – even the move to new branding didn’t persuade me. CAU wasn’t great when I took my family once so I never bothered again.

None of them were bad experiences, they were just average – and average doesn’t cut it any more. As we all know, average brands find it challenging to survive and none of us are surprised when we hear news of yet another CVA or administration.

Occasionally, very occasionally, operator clients don’t pay our invoices on time and that’s usually another sign something is wrong. We have only had five bad debts as an agency since 2001 – four of them were operators that delayed paying and where my personal experiences weren’t that great. They all went into administration.

You can sort of sniff when a brand isn’t doing well. Subconsciously, or perhaps even consciously, you move gently away from it along with a lot of other people so when those brands are going through difficult times, you aren’t really surprised. It might be obvious in the food, where quality (or portion size) may have suffered in a drive to protect margins, in tatty menus that have not been replaced to save costs, in service where hours might have been taken out of the system to cut labour percentage, or in the overall experience where training could have been cut back. You can sense it.

I do think the efforts of Prezzo, with its new food, Jon Knight’s work at Jamie’s and Martin William’s regime at Gaucho, however, will help regain lapsed users into these brands. I really hope they all survive.

However, the news on Tuesday (9 October) that The Burning Night group had gone into administration and Living Ventures had put Manchester House and Artisan into administration were both huge surprises. The Potting Shed is my “go to” pub when in Bingley (along with the fabulous Brown Cow from Timothy Taylor) and I have had fabulous occasions at both Living Ventures sites, where food and service have been exemplary. I am truly shocked.

Matt Smith, joint administrator when CAU went under, was quoted in the Telegraph in July as saying: “Unfortunately, the CAU brand has struggled in the oversupplied casual dining sector with rapid overexpansion, poor site selection, onerous lease arrangements and a fundamentally poor guest proposition all being factors in its underperformance.”

Most of these factors don’t seem to have applied regarding Burning Night, Manchester House or Artisan. I don’t know the real reasons but I am worried. When good, seemingly solid, highly regarded businesses go into administration, I think there is cause to worry – or perhaps it’s just me?


Written by Ann Elliott.