OPINION: The successful growth of independent eateries

Alan Gordon

The independents are En Marche! as the hospitality trade continues its own quiet revolution says principal commercial partner in the Glasgow North office of DM Hall Chartered Surveyors Alan Gordon.

It is not only Emmanuel Macron’s support which is En Marche! as he heads for the Élysée Palace. The resurgence among the independents who are revitalising leisure and hospitality in Scotland is continuing apace. They are definitely on the move.

The bellwether for the licensed trade, certainly in Glasgow and the surrounding conurbations, continues to be Finnieston, that remarkable strip of run-down tenements which has transformed itself into one of the most exciting hospitality hubs in the UK.

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The catalyst for the Finnieston phenomenon was West End-domiciled media types whose places of work moved across the river to Pacific Quay, but who still needed somewhere nearby to lunch.

It might have been expected that by now, several years into the resurrection of this most ungentrified of urban areas, we might have been approaching peak Finnieston. However, just last month, another three outlets opened up, each as good as the last.

A certain diminution of quality might also have been anticipated, but in this dog-eat-dog battle for business, restaurants and bars have to maintain high standards, especially when surrounded by so many competing interests.

Like many pockets of activity around the city centre – satellite hospitality districts, if you like – the regeneration is being led by independents, rather than the march of the multiples which we became used to for several years.

That is not to say the big chains are under any threat. There is still a place in the market for large outlets with a brass number on the table which provide food and drink of reasonable quality and cost. JD Wetherspoons and All Bar One, for instance.

But the independents are on the march for two reasons: a real appetite for something new from consumers, who appear insatiable; and a more benign funding environment.

Business people wanting to embark on a new hospitality venture are spoilt for choice. They are being offered finance at acceptable rates not only from High Street banks but also from the new challenger banks and the brewers.

What will be the next Finnieston? That’s for clairvoyants, but it’s hard not to be impressed by the enthusiasm around Miller Street, just south of George Square. It houses the successful Paesano Pizza, SoHo has expanded from its Jordanhill base, Ox and Finch is moving in and the Spanish Butcher, the Spiritualist and Brutti Compadres add spice to the mix.

Miller Street also creates something of a bridge between the City Centre and the Merchant City, which continues to thrive.
If we think of the business district as being bounded by Cadogan Street in the south, Bath Street in the north, Blythswood Street in the west and Hope

Street in the east, we are looking at something of a hospitality-lite zone.

So it is hardly surprising that new business will locate on its periphery. Keep an eye on the west end of St Vincent Street, home to major new office development, and the Charing Cross area, which has always been lively.

No matter how inspired the new generation of entrepreneurs may be, they would struggle badly without good staff and it is fair to say that the standards in hospitality staffing have rarely been higher.

Perhaps this is down to the influx of European workers who are demonstrating to young, home-grown staff that the hospitality industry can be viably viewed as a rewarding career option.

Certainly, owners seem unworried by the potential effects of Brexit on staffing and appear confident that they will continue to be able to attract people of the quality they need to make their businesses a success.

A much greater concern is the continual upward revision of the minimum wage which is forcing some independents to review rotas and work out how to cut staffing hours without reducing the quality of service.

If the current pay rises continue, it is conceivable that the more marginal businesses may become unsustainable. A period of stability would be most welcome.

 

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