Chains are a threat to London’s vibrant small restaurants

Alliance of Independent Restaurants

WE READ your recent article with interest [“London nearly at ‘peak restaurant’ as closures reach an all-time high”, November 7] .

London is a gastronomic success story that rivals any capital city but we agree that there are now almost too many restaurants vying for trade.

Every business in any commercial sector takes its chances in the economic survival of the fittest. We are now seeing unprecedented levels of restaurant closures but not simply because of sheer numbers.

Over-expansion and risky borrowing has seen off some well-known high-street chains. Each closure has been documented by the media but we mourn the loss of the many small independent businesses that do not warrant newspaper inches.

Such restaurants have not closed due to excessive expansion or negligent management but because of ever-increasing rents, extortionate rates and spiralling raw-produce costs — costs forced up by scale-hungry chains prepared to pay ridiculous premiums to dominate high streets.

The fabulous culinary success of this city is built on the hard work and creative spirit of the independent operator. Every chain started with a single shop. We urge London’s diners to support the independents.

Paul Merrett
Alliance of Independent Restaurants

Editor's reply

Dear Paul

THE rise in restaurant rents and business rates — Philip Hammond’s recent gesture towards small operators will not impact usefully on the sector — not to mention increased staff costs, mandatory pension schemes plus competition in hiring arising from the prospect of Brexit, are not helpful to the restaurant business. It always will be a tough market where a profit margin of 10 per cent is viewed as an acceptable result. Probably a certain amount of schadenfreude infects the news around the demise of over-exuberant groups and chains but well managed they serve a purpose.

Independent restaurants reap the rewards of an ingrained eating out habit and definitely benefit from the chatter that arises on social media. My reviews mention seven or eight independent ventures every week.

Readers do support independents. They queue around the block to get into the latest thrill ride.”

Fay Maschler
Restaurant critic

This article originally appeared in the Evening Standard.