Small is beautiful

Andrew Edmunds is a long established restaurant in central London that always features highly on top restaurant lists including that of Hardens, which currently has it placed as the fifth best within its price category and is it is also deemed the city’s third most romantic restaurant by the guide’s readers.

I admit to venturing down there a few times with my wife (before we were married so I guess the romantic thing works) but what I remember most vividly from my various visits was squeezing between the tables during one dinner sitting to visit the toilets and knocking over a bottle of red wine.

This was not because I’d consumed too much vino – although I might well have done so – but because the tables are placed so closely together. This is not because the owners are money-grabbers – quite the contrary in fact as they have one of the best value wine lists in town – it’s down to the tiny size of the dining room

This cosines – helped by the romantic candlelight – is one of the big appeals of Andrew Edmunds in my view. Lots of people clearly have the same opinion as me because it has been around many years and remains a firm favourite of many Londoners. This desire for perfectly formed compact restaurants has been supported by a recent survey from OpenTable that found 87% of people in the UK prefer the atmosphere of a small, intimate restaurant as opposed to a big bustling joint.

This is yet another small piece of evidence that adds to the case that the enormous cavernous places that typically open during boom times are not exactly well positioned in the market to counter the headwinds that the restaurant industry now faces. Small is now undeniably beautiful – not just for diners but also for operators judging by some of the recent announcements.

Burrito brand Tortilla has just launched its first mini version of its restaurant that covers only 800 sq ft and encompasses a mere 20 covers, which is half the size of one of its regular outlets. The rationale behind this move is partly down to the onerous rents now being demanded for locations on high streets.

By moving to residential and office-based sites the rentals become viable for a smaller base of customers being served from a mini site. But what makes this diversion in its strategy worthwhile is that overall sales will be boosted by the expected higher percentage of revenue derived from take-away and delivery, which will likely equal the levels achieved at the larger high street sites.

This recognition of the growing impact of home delivery is also part of the reason burger chain Five Guys is going down the small restaurant route. It has secured two sites that are some way more compact than its regular units. The predicted greater take-away element means less seating is required.

For both companies finding suitable – potentially profitable – sites is proving sufficiently difficult that they are having to think outside the (big) box and take the smaller box route. And it is home delivery and take-away that is seemingly coming to the rescue and ensuring these new business models stack-up financially. This is quite refreshing because to date my pieces seem to have focused more on the pressures delivery is bringing to the foodservice sector.

The small is beautiful trend is being replicated across sectors. It was only recently that Whitbread announced it would be doubling the capacity at its Cardiff Premier Inn site by expanding from the current 70 regular-sized rooms to 140 smaller, compact versions.

This is not being done by building an extension onto the property but by effectively cutting each room in half – that will create some rooms without windows. I’m not sure I like the sound of this and it would be a sure fire way to get me straight down to the hotel’s bar. It’s just as well therefore that the restaurant and bar spaces will increase at the site. It certainly seems a rather a cunning plan to drive more food and beverage sales.

While it will be interesting to see if this experiment will result in more Premier Inn properties going through the same cut-and-splice process I do hope that Andrew Edmunds does not get tempted to squeeze in any more tables. Otherwise, nobody’s bottles of wine will be safe.

Glynn Davis, editor of Retail Insider
This piece was originally published on Propel Info where Glynn Davis writes a regular Friday opinion piece. Retail Insider would like to thank Propel for allowing the reproduction of this column.
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